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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 18

ANVELTENTERING ORBIT - FIRST MOON OF SMITHON
ANVELTENTERING ORBIT - FIRST MOON OF SMITHON

"Entering high orbit around Anvelt," Sumire's voice came across the ship's com as Riana made her way to the Argo's CIC followed by Darius, "we're receiving a hail from the ARS Revanche."

"She's here already," Riana raised her eyebrows and turned to Darius.

"I imagine she's been placating Lord Karosas for some time now," the XO offered, "our... diversions have probably not been well-received."

"That's why we left Lord Madeira," Riana countered, "I hope she hasn't had to babysit him all this time."

"He hates Lord Madeira," Darius reminded her, "but I imagine they've both had their hands full." They stepped through the door leading into the ship's CIC and while Darius moved over to the Holotable, Riana stepped over to the com.

"Su, we're in the CIC," she used a channel directly to the Argo's bridge, "should we meet you in the Leopard?"

"Negative," she replied, "High Lady Arano and Lord Madeira are already en route to us. It seems we're on a bit of a timetable."

Riana sighed. "How tight?"

"The dropship Lord Karosas mentioned apparently made berth on the surface approximately an hour ago," the pilot explained, "but this is just a refueling stop. They anticipate the entire process to be complete in less than an hour so if you want to go ahead and select your lance I'll get with Yang and start getting them loaded."

"Damn, that's close," she snarled, "any advice from her on what to expect?"

"Negative, Commander," Sumire said," but the target is a Union-class dropship and this is a military refueling depot. I would recommend a long range heavy lance."

Riana leaned against the wall with her forearm for a moment, hanging her head, and then she pressed the intercom again, "Load my Jager, the Hunch, the Cent, and Glitch's new Dragon. I'm on my way to the auxiliary docking collar to receive Lady Arano."

"了解," Sumire responded as Riana closed the channel and turned to leave.

"Darius, call down to the lounge and have Todd, Leonard, and Jess suit up for deployment then meet us here... double time."

"You got it," the XO nodded as the display on the Holotable flickered to life, depicting the moon and the Argo's position in high orbit.

Riana dashed off at a trot, heading past the Mech Bay. 'I bet she'll be surprised to see it,' she thought, 'now that Dr. Murad has it all fixed up!' She wound her way through the Argo's hallways, her mind lingering on Kamea. Smithon had been such a rush she really didn't have any time to talk to her and Lord Karosas' attitude had put a damper on everything. She was certain that the five weeks she had Queen Kamea's Revenge repairing, refitting, and scrambling for low-intensity contracts had been a strain on that relationship so she hoped that Lady Arano was in good spirits. 'It couldn't be helped,' she reasoned in her mind, 'deploying in the state we were in would have been immediate failure.' At least that's what she would say if it came up. She had just entered the docking compartment when the Argo jerked from impact. Riana's eyes widened as her hands went out to the walls to steady herself. "Coming in a little hot, aren't you?" she asked aloud as the noise of the docking clamps reverberated through the ship.

"Commander," Sumire's voice came over the com, "the Lady and her entourage have just arrived."

"No shit," Riana mumbled to herself as she entered the room at the end of the compartment where the airlock was. Going to a panel on the wall she engaged the seal and input the manual clearance for the door, pressing the com before she took a step back. "I'm in place, Su. You can give them the go..."

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Before she could finish her sentence the actuators on the door rotated and the airlock door began to swing open, "...ahead," Riana's voice trailed as she released the com button and skipped to the left to center herself in the room, coming to parade rest as High Lady Arano and Lord Madeira appeared on the other side. She was still dressed casually in a tank top and jacket; her face and chest spattered with hydraulic fluid from where she had been in the bay overseeing the final adjustments on Glitch's new Heavy-Class DRG-1N. At her insistence Yang's crew had armed it with a PPC and a sizable LRM 20 array of rockets. They'd had to drastically reduce armor on the Mech's right side to afford for the correct tonnage and the stabilizers had been giving them trouble. Since it was all her idea Yang had challenged her to figure out how to calibrate the stabilizers so that was exactly what she had been doing... right up until their arrival when Darius had come to get her. "My lady," she began with a short bow, self-conscious about her appearance, "welcome aboard..."

"Forgive me, Riana," Kamea began in a serious tone as she strode forward with a purpose, "but we've little time for pleasantries. Your target is on the ground and we've got to get you there as quickly as possible."

"Understood," she nodded, turning to lead the way, "as always, Revenge is yours, My Lady."

"Today you are Lord Karosas'," she corrected her, "and you are very late." The comment and tone were frosty enough to silence Riana as she led them quickly back to the CIC. As they moved swiftly through the Argo Jester appeared, emerging from the kitchen with a bagel and a steaming cup of coffee but an icy glare from Riana saw him quickly retreat the way he came. They swept into the CIC just behind Dr. Murad. She scooted out of the way, surprised by their rapid approach. Darius was still there awaiting them.

"Yang and Sumire are on their way," the XO offered, "the MechTechs are loading the Leopard as we speak and the Mechwarriors you selected should be here shortly."

"My gratitude for your expediency," Lady Arano nodded as she and Lord Madeira approached the Holotable, "Lord Karosas challenged my authority, and he was right to do so," her voice was filled with shame, a remnant from her flight and exile, "his daughter died in my name. We're going to do what we can to earn his help and support. That means destroying theNewgrange, a smuggling ship that has been running weapons to the Directorate."

"Wait a minute," Darius interrupted her, "Newgrange? That sounds familiar."

"I'll explain in a moment," the Lady said as Sumire rushed into the room, bowing in apology. Yang followed behind a few moments later.

"The rest of the lance is on the way," Yang spoke to Riana as he arrived, "and my guys should have you loaded in twenty minutes, tops. I've promised them a round of Triple F burgers and a case of Timbiqui Dark the moment we run across it."

"That's fine," she cut her eyes at him, "you can spend your pay however you like." He narrowed his eyes in response and pursed his lips but said nothing more. "My Lady," she addressed Kamea directly, "it isn't necessary to wait for the lance. I can brief them on the way down."

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"I can brief them myself," Kamea looked up at her and their eyes locked, briefly. Riana looked away, subconsciously. "I'll be your voice on the com for this drop, Commander. I'll be running this Op from your CIC. In fact, if I had my Kintaro aboard the Revanche I would go with you," she allowed a small smile to escape before she continued, "but I do not, so let's get this done. As you've heard House Karosas has suffered greatly at the hands of the Directorate. We can't change that, but we can show Lord Karosas that we're his allies and that our word can be trusted." She looked over at Dr. Farad, standing to her right, "We need his help with our data archive, yes, but that isn't why I agreed to this mission; if we are to prevail against the Directorate I must unite the Founding Houses under the Restoration's banner," she looked up as Glitch darted in the room, taking a quiet corner spot behind Riana, with Vamp and Death Krusade hovering in the doorway, "Without their support we will have no way to replace our losses."

"Understood, Lady Arano," Darius spoke for the group, "Let's get into the specifics about this job he's given us; I seem to remember something about a dropship?"

"She's called the Newgrange," she continued, moving around the Holotable and letting her fingers trace its edge, "She's a transport vessel, ostensibly civilian, named for an old line of Yardships,"

"I knew I'd heard that name before," Darius let his fingers touch his chin, "the Star League's biggest mobile repair and refit support ships. Two million tons and over two kilometers long."

"Well, this one is a standard thirty-six hundred ton Union-class dropship," Lord Madeira corrected, "it is only named in honor of the old Yardships."

"The Newgrange has been certified for commercial flight in the Directorate, the Capellan Confederation, and the Taurian Concordat," Kamea looked around the room at everyone in attendance, "In all other ways she's completely unremarkable... at least that's what her official paperwork says."

"I take it Lord Karosas disagrees with that official paperwork?" Hysteria folded her arms, covering her stained tank top. She was still insecure about her appearance.

"That's right," she nodded, "he claims that the Newgrange is running weapons into the Aurigan Reach to supply the Directorate's war effort. Her crew has been using an old commercial port on Anvelt to fuel up between trips."

"Wait," Sumire raised her hand, "I thought your people said this was a military refueling depot," she looked over at Riana for confirmation, "I'm pretty sure you said..."

"It is now," Lord Madeira answered, "as Lady Arano was saying it is an old commercial port. Recent scans, taken today, show it defended by a light lance with multiple turrets on site and a military sub-station just a few klicks away," he pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, "once hostilities start they can have reinforcements on site in a matter of minutes."

"Pretty well protected for a commercial port," Death Krusade snorted derisively.

"Ships like this one could help to explain the Directorate's unexpected strength of arms," Kamea continued, "It is in our interest to destroy it. According to the intel we've been given the Newgrange is carrying more armor than any Union-class dropship has a right to. Attacking her directly will be a waste of time."

"If is civilian zen why does it need all zis armor?" Vamp reasoned, looking at Kru for affirmation. The stocky Solaran nodded in agreement and folded his arms, "Zat alone is suspicious."

"It does back up Lord Karosas claim," Glitch offered, "but there's no way our lance can take out a Union-class with armor before it takes off."

"Thankfully, Lord Madeira has found us an alternative approach." Lady Arano concluded, turning to the Lord, “Alexander?”

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"Thank you, my Lady," Lord Madeira stepped forward and pushed his glasses back into position, allowing his hands to come together in front of him as he spoke, "The Anvelt fueling station was designed for civilian use. It isn't a hardened target and its components cannot withstand a sustained attack. If we go in while the Newgrange is refueling and blow the station's primary fuel reservoir her armor won't count for much," a smile crept across both Vamp and Kru's faces as they bumped their fists together in camaraderie, "the resulting explosion will smash her like an egg."

"You're sure that Lord Karosas is telling the truth?" Riana asked in an uncharacteristically meek voice, "It would be a disaster if we took out a civilian dropship."

"A lot of innocent people can fit on a Union," Glitch added, wrapping her arms around herself from the thought.

"From my own study of the Newgrange and the situation on Anvelt, I am convinced that Lord Karosas is telling us the truth," Lord Madeira continued, "there is something deeply suspicious about this ship. She isn't the commercial transport she pretends to be."

"Vague assurances aren't enough, Lady Arano," the tone in Riana's voice signaled to her crew that something was really bothering her, "I need to know that there aren't any innocent people on that ship."

"There's almost always some collateral damage," Riana did not turn around as Death Krusade spoke, instead her face darkened and her gaze tilted slightly towards the floor, "I mean, youse can't make an omelette..."

"Not helping," Vamp put a hand on Kru's shoulder, detecting his Commander's deteriorating mood.

"I'm no more eager for unnecessary bloodshed than you are, Riana," Lady Arano interjected, her soft tone and gaze halting Hysteria's descent, "I hope you know me well enough to recognize that."

"Of course," her voice shifted to one of atonement, "I would never insinuate, it's just that..."

"If we can raise the Newgrange on the com I will offer her captain a chance to surrender," Kamea's posture straightened, as if often did when she made vows or pledges, "I'd rather take prisoners than fill graves..." she turned her head to the right and looked down, "the Reach has seen too much death already."

"Hang on a second, boss," Yang spoke, turning directly to face Riana, "If this job were as easy as blowing up a fuel tank then Karosas would've done it himself already." He cast a suspicious eye back at the High Lady and her lordly companion, "So what's the catch? I mean why send us after such an easy target? Something here smells dirty."

"A need for deniable assets?" Sumire reasoned, "Could it be that he's playing the Arano Restoration? Some sort of personal revenge?"

Kamea stepped forward, her posture ramrod straight. Her voice carried a hard edge. "Lord Karosas sent the last remnants of his personal guard after the Newgrange two weeks ago while you were recuperating. A lance of hardened Mechwarriors," she looked around the room, her cimmerian gaze challenging any to dispute her again, "they were summarily destroyed; a complete loss. There were no survivors." Yang and Sumire withered under her hard glare as she came to her conclusion.

"Sounds like an unusually heavy security detail for a smuggling operation," Riana mused, "you'd think if this is supposed to be such a secret that a surprise attack by a veteran lance would have had more success."

"Not to mention," Yang dared to speak again, his eyes resembling those of a scolded dog that was not sorry for stealing food, "he just made our job harder; they're going to be expecting another attack."

"I guess that's why they have a lance and turrets at a civilian depot," Sumire surmised, "can we be sure this is still a soft target?"

"If they plan to harden it," Lord Madeira spoke, "the crews are not on site yet. Reasonably they would have to send for one from Directorate space, which would be complicated by the Restoration's control of Smithon's system."

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"That means the lance and turrets were in place before Lord Karosas' attack," Darius reasoned, leaning forward to look at Yang, "though I suppose it's possible there was more than a single lance when he attacked."

"It's bizarre, I agree," Kamea's tone put an end to the speculation, "but we only have Lord Karosas' word to go on and he didn't personally witness what happened."

"That'll have to do," Hysteria nodded in agreement, "what's the sitrep, my Lady?"

"We should approach this drop with an abundance of caution," she turned to the Holotable as Lord Madeira displayed the blueish-tinged image of the Union-class dropship parked at the refueling depot. The terrain looked sharp and jagged but there appeared to be a decent approach from the southeast. "Bring the strongest lance you can field and keep your eyes open while you're on the moon's surface," she turned and made eye contact with Riana, "and I'd recommend bringing a heat-efficient lance, if possible. Anvelt's atmosphere and climate will quickly overwhelm your heat sinks if you're not careful."

"Vat kind of terrain do ve look at?" Vamp asked from the back of the room.

"From the scans, Martian," Sumire referred to her datapad, "expect low visibility, obscured sunlight, frequent dust storms, and rough terrain."

"You heard her, people," Darius clapped his hands together, "nothing we haven't handled before," he met Hysteria's eyes and he could tell Dekker's death was on her mind; Anvelt's environment was very similar to Untran's, "Keep your eyes open for the Newgrange's security detail and be ready for the fight when it arrives. I'll be rooting for you from here."

"Chief, I need you to light a fire under the asses of your people," Riana said, beckoning him to rise, "if the Leopard isn't loaded yet then make it so," she pointed at him, "and make promises out of your own pocket!"

"Commander," Darius interjected, "I should mention that Lord Karosas is offering over two million for this job..."

"Burgers and beer for everyone," she corrected herself to Yang's delight; a smile splayed across his face as he rushed out of the room, "I wanna be on the ground in thirty minutes or less!" She turned and pointed to Sumire, "Spool up the Lep; the second we're on board I want to be underway," she spun as the pilot nodded and exited the CIC, "Vamp, Kru, Glitch get your shit and get in your pits. I'll be there shortly and I'd better be the last aboard," she turned to leave but stopped and looked over her shoulder, "if you'll excuse me, my Lady, I've still got to get dressed," she smiled warmly at her, "I'll be counting on you from up here." Kamea nodded as Riana rushed out of the room.

The Argo was suddenly awash with activity. As she raced past the Mech Bay she could see the Techs scrambling about; everyone busy as they moved the final Mech, the Dragon, to the elevator. The loading process was not without danger and rushing the movement of a 65-ton Battlemech was never casual, but she had no time to stop to admire their work. She slipped into Alpha Pod with its comfortable gravity and headed for her bunk, remembering all too late that she had sent her dropsuit for cleaning. Cursing she spun around and raced back to the laundry, at the head of the pod, and slid the door open. The laundromat was small and unstaffed at the moment. Neglecting to hit the lights she tore through the polywrapped items searching for hers, holding them up in turn to try and see in the dark. Finally finding it she ripped the wrapping open and grabbed her suit, rushing out the door and almost slamming headfirst into Lady Arano. "Ah!" she exclaimed, her back slamming against the door frame she dropped the suit on the floor in shock, "My Lady! You surprised me! What are you doing here?"

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"I... wanted to see you," Lady Arano began softly, taking a step back and brushing her hair from her eyes, "before the drop."

"Me?" her heart rate quickened and her mind whirled, "What for?" She winced after she spoke the words; 'how foolish I sound,' she thought.

"This mission," Kamea began, "I want you to be careful. I know your lance ran into a lot of trouble on Smithon," she looked down as she spoke, "two of your team almost got killed... because of me."

"My Lady," subconsciously Riana began to reach out to her, but she stopped herself, "don't. It's not your fault. We're mercenaries, Mechwarriors! I mean it comes with the territory..."

"This incident with Lord Karosas," she continued, "I feel like I'm having you pay for my mistakes..."

"You didn't make a mistake," Riana said defiantly, "you did exactly what Sir Raju told you to do! What good would it have done Lord Karosas or anyone else if you'd been captured or killed on Coromodir?? You survived, to fight another day, and by doing so you gave Karosas and every other Founding House a chance... a chance they wouldn't have if you'd remained!"

"I mean, I keep asking these things of you and your team," she shook her head, "I know you're mercenaries now and I know it's your job and maybe I shouldn't feel this way because Lord Karosas is paying you and you do take other contracts besides mine but... this particular mission; he insisted it be you. Not the Restoration Army, which I would have gladly committed to this cause, but for some reason he wanted you to do it; to take down the Newgrange and..."

"My Lady..." Riana muttered under her breath as she spoke. Her eyes were fixed now on Kamea's lips as they formed her words, occasionally flitting up to her dark eyes or the scars that ran across the bridge of her nose. In a moment of impulsiveness Riana found herself moving forward. Going in, uninvited, for a kiss. Her eyes began to close as she neared her but, suddenly, Lady Arano pulled backwards.

"Commander Klaue!" she exclaimed, her eyes widening.

Riana shut her eyes tightly and froze. 'Goddammit,' she grimaced as she waited for Lady Arano to continue, fixed in shame as she mentally berated herself for misreading the signs.

"Riana," when she spoke Kamea's voice was gentle. Hysteria flinched as she felt Lady Arano place a hand on her shoulder. Slowly she opened her eyes, her eyebrows pinched together and her lips pursed in a blend of horror, humiliation, and remorse. "I am flattered," Kamea smiled, "truly I am. But I am also at war; not only for my throne and my birthright but also for my people," Riana's expression faded as she sank back into the wall, a hollow smile and a nod veiling the numbness she suddenly felt, "I cannot, in any good conscious, think about such matters until my uncle's Directorate has fallen." Her hand moved to Hysteria's chin, preventing her from lowering her gaze. "I hope you can understand."

"Forgive me," she murmured, dipping into a squat to retrieve her dropsuit, "I... should go. My lance is waiting and if we're going to catch the Newgrange we need to launch immediately."

"Yes, of course," Kamea nodded, "I'll.. head back to the CIC," she offered Hysteria another warm smile but the Commander found herself unable to respond, "I'll see you on the comms?"

"Yeah," Riana flashed a lop-sided grin as Lady Arano turned to leave, exiting the pod. Solemnly she headed back to her bunk, resisting the urge to throw herself in it, and changed.

(To be continued)

Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 17

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"Hey there fellas," the holographic image turned and acknowledged the mercs gathered around her, "whaddya boys do around here for fun?"

"Poker," Maximus Jaeger grunted with a grin, eyeing the hologram up and down.

"Well deal me in," she purred, "it looks like we have a full house."

"Here's to the hole that never heals!" Marlboro Mickens lifted his mug in toast.

"No matter how many times you lick it!" Falco Bronson's hand passed through the hologram's rear as she spun on him in mock indignation.

"How do you watch this shit?" Sumire let her face fall into her right hand, "It's like I can feel my brain leaking."

"This is high cinema!" Death Krusade leaned back and gestured to the projection, popcorn flying from his mouth as he spoke, "This is the best of independent Holovid production in all the Periphery! An Aurigan classic!"

"Sure," Hysteria reasoned, "so long as you discount budget, writing, talent..."

"Hey!" Kru twisted around to glare at Riana, his eyes first falling on her foot resting on the back of his chair, "Yous can keep that Inner Sphere megacorp bullshit they churn out," he turned and elbowed Vamp, sitting next to him, before shifting his gaze back to Riana behind him, "Wes guys here can appreciate the finer nuances of a masterwork show like MERCENARIES!"

"Oo, look!" Vamp excitedly slapped Kru on the shoulder as the Holovid exploded into violence... again, "Ze Lazer Kobras has found zem again!"

"The Lazer Kobras," Sumire groaned, still not looking up, "Commander have I thanked you yet for not naming us something stupid?"

"Naw, she just named us a sentence!" Kru didn't turn around as he and Vamp bounced in their seats watching Captain Jaeger and Marlboro return fire at Brom Bonehammer and his nefarious crew, even as an errant laser blast blew apart the bottle that Falco had turned up and was drinking from, "Hey! Not the hooch!" he yelled at the projection.

"They can't hear you, Todd!" Riana reached up with her foot and pushed Kru's head, prompting him to spin around and cut her a dirty look.

"It's not a sentence!" the pilot gritted her teeth and looked up at the ceiling in frustration, her hands shooting out to either side, fingers splayed, "Auuggh! I can't take it anymore!" She got up, retrieving her datapad from the seat next to her, "I'm gonna go check the ND, make sure we're on course."

"You vill miss ze best part!" Vamp protested, glancing over at her and indicating the action in front of them, "Zey are about to learn zey both verk for ze same employer!"

The pilot hung her head, "I don't know what's worse; that you actually watch this shit or that you've actually watched this shit more than once..."

"It's not like we exactly have a huge chip stack to choose from," Medusa offered, but his eyes were still on the action.

Sumire cut her eyes over to Darius, who held his hands up, deflecting responsibility, "I blame you for this," she growled.

"It was a random draw!" he protested with a chuckle.

"I can actually hear them getting stupider," she said flatly, "whatever. I'll be on the bridge." With that she spun on her heel and headed for the door. Glitch popped up behind her.

"Hang on and I'll come with!" Her tone was cheery as usual, "You could use the company and I'd like to learn more about theArgo anyway!"

"You've had enough mindless masculinity for one night too?" Su quipped with a warm smile, grateful for her camaraderie.

"Nah," Glitch smiled, "I've just seen this episode a few times too." Sumire's expression deflated as she rolled her eyes and turned to leave.

"See?" Kru called after them, "The lady has fine tastes! Refined-like!"

"Don't go!" Vamp called just as the door slid shut, "Zey are about to assault Doktor Oblivion's Star Acropolis... togezher!"

Such is how I imagined Holovid night, one of the random events, might go. Both Vamp and Death Krusade got High Spirits for a month from the event, giving them a bonus to morale, although I cannot imagine Sumire going in for a lowbrow classic likeMERCENARIES! We were on our way to Mechdur, another system in the Aurigan Reach now under the Restoration's control. I had found a job to locate and take out a Directorate propagandist who was stirring up trouble on the planet. I had already taken a couple of small jobs on Smithon itself, ostensibly difficulty 2 jobs, but they were low pay and the damage repairs to Kru's Hunchback and Sly's Shadowhawk ate up virtually all of the profit. One of my extravagant expenses was an improved Medbay so by the time we arrived Vamp's injuries should be healed but my savings in the last two months had dwindled from nearly eight million to just under five... I needed the milk runs for profit, but Assassination missions usually proffered good salvage. Against my better judgement I opted to be able to select 3 pieces of salvage, which dropped my profit down to less than 400k. I was practically doing this job for free in the hopes of getting a complete frame of a decent, hopefully heavy, Mech.

Alas it was not to be. The lance protecting this propagandist was light to say the least. A Firestarter, two Locusts, and a Striker assault vehicle. The map was a repeat of the same map when I assaulted the Directorate's communications headquarters on Weldry; large lake, rising steep terrain to the left, and a sheer cliff wall to the right. I sent Glitch and Hysteria up the left since preemptively; expecting heavier resistance, while Vamp and Jester moved towards the shore. Within 3 or 4 rounds the Opfor lance was gone; all I had left to do was find and destroy the propagandist. Jester moved up in the Jenner and got a Sensor Lock. A Blackjack! I had never seen one other than Hysteria's ancestral Mech. This was not the kind of Mech I was looking for, however. I maneuvered Hysteria and Glitch and managed to take the right arm off before Vamp could even get a clear shot but then we got the notification that the propagandist was about to run. "No worries," I thought, "I'll have a round or two to finish 'em off." Then the escape location appeared: right next to the propagandist. I got ONE more action before she did; Jester in the Jenner. I moved up and took an Alpha Strike (I had just used all of our morale for called shots trying to detonate the SRM ammo) but it wasn't enough. She escaped. I made 78k from that job and got a complete Locust from it. For the record I have THREE Locusts in storage already. So that sucked ass. But there was another job on Mechdur; another Assassination. This time it was a Directorate Mechwarrior that refused to lay down arms. Didn't know what he was in but the Difficulty was just 2 1/2. I negotiated a 600k fee, foregoing the option of selecting any salvage, and set off with Hysteria, Sly, Glitch, and Vamp.

How I imagine the Leopard's cockpit might look; Sumire's lair.
How I imagine the Leopard's cockpit might look; Sumire's lair.

The map was actually another recycle (I knew this would happen eventually. I am still shocked at how long it took to really start noticing recycled maps!) so I knew the terrain. We were set down in a forest and the map was more or less divided by a mountain ridge. You could cross over it to a certain point. It looked like the majority of Opfor was on the western side so I sent Vamp and Hysteria to deal with them while Glitch sought the high point and Sly broke east to hunt the main target. Mostly I stuck to the cover of the trees and tried to bait the enemy to come to me but they were clever; they had the same idea. Without the Jenner to establish sensor locks we spent a few rounds locked in stalemate. Eventually a Panther appeared to the north. At first I presumedthis was our target. Panther's have that pesky PPC so I broke Hysteria from cover and headed up the mountain ridge; her big AC/20 could make short work of the Panther. That was enough to draw out a Spider from the west as well as an SRM carrier. Vamp traded fire with them, alone, in the forest as Glitch still tried to achieve her perch.

It wasn't long before I got another sensor trace from the real target; a Griffin. (DAMN! I could have used one of these!) By this point Hysteria was over the ridge and on her way around even as Sly's Shadowhawk was unloading on the Panther. Meanwhile the Panther, Spider, and SRM carrier were all laying into Vamp's Cent and he was starting to get chewed up. "That's alright," I thought as I fired the jump jets on the Vindy, "now Glitch has a full view of the entire battlefield!"

The interior of a Vindicator as seen in the Mechwarrior series
The interior of a Vindicator as seen in the Mechwarrior series

Yep, Glitch had a full 360 panorama all right. She could see all of the enemy lance... and they could see her. The SRM carrier got stomped by Vamp but the untouched Shadowhawk now rounded the corner and fired at the Vindy. So did the Panther. So did the Griffin. In a single round they tore her up so bad I made her jump down and hide! Meanwhile Vamp went melee with the Spider and the Shadowhawk at the same time and Sly managed to blow the left arm off the Griffin while Hysteria did the same to the Panther's right; taking out that PPC. It was a rough fight for Vamp; I was afraid they would tear off an arm again, but in the end he prevailed; destroying both the Spider and the Shadowhawk by himself but taking a good amount of structural damage in the process. With only the diminished Panther and the Griffin left Glitch mounted her perch again, taking a shot with the Vindy's PPC at the Griffin... a shot that I thought might finish him. It did not. Instead the Panther fired its lasers and the Griffin unloaded on Glitch, knocking her prone after destroying her right arm (and her PPC.) Well, this was unexpected! I again concentrated fire on the Griffin but it managed to survive yet another round and both it and the Panther took shots on Glitch's downed Vindy. Boom, there went the left arm. Boom, there went the left and right torso. By the time Glitch could stand she had no weapons, no jump jets, and was nothing more than a sitting duck. Fearing the consequences of another lucky enemy strike I ordered her to eject, blowing the head of the Vindy as well. The Griffin followed shortly and Sly ended up kicking the Panther to death but when I got back to the Argo, there was bad news.

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There just wasn't enough of the Vindicator to salvage. A Leg and a heavily damaged CT. That is all I had of it. Glitch herself was out, probably 2 months, badly injured but the Vindy, her beloved Vindy? Replacing all of the parts and repairing was going to cost somewhere in the range of 600-700 thousand, maybe more. Repairs on the Cent were needed as well but the Vindy's repair bill alone would eat up all of the mission's profit and then some. And my savings sat at a meager 4.7 million. With a heavy heart, the kind reserved for Mechwarrior death, I let the Vindicator slip away... and scrapped her. I knew Glitch wouldn't be happy at the loss of her Vindy, but at the same time I needed a heavier lance... and Panzyr was selling Dragon parts. I had two Dragon parts.

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Glitch's trademark PPC will fit on the Dragon... so will a mighty LRM 20 launcher. I could also up the armor on it to help keep her safe but not unless I lowered it somewhere else. I chose her left side; all her weapons were on the right so a lightly armored left side wasn't too bad, right? Time will tell. For now I need a few more milk runs...

... and maybe a few more Holovid nights.

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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 16

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Liberate: Smithon began kind of low-key. No sooner than I'd arrive in orbit I was tasked to deploy; no cut-scenes, no meeting... just a mini-briefing on the way down:

"The Restoration army is engaged in a battle of attrition against Directorate forces," Kamea's voice was distorted as it came across the radio, "and our ground forces need resupply if they're going to prevail. To that end I'm sending you to capture a Directorate munitions dump. Eliminate their defenses and prevent them from getting away with the munitions; our support staff will handle the rest."

"Zings must be grim," Vamp offered," if zey are in such hurry."

"We are definitely on a timetable here," Darius said, still aboard the Argo, "the Restoration Army's been locked in a stalemate with the Directorate for a few days now. In the end it's gonna come down to whichever side has the most ammo, so let's make sure it's ours."

"What's our sitrep look like?" Hysteria asked as she spun up her Jager's reactor. She didn't like how quickly this was moving. The Argo had only just entered orbit around Smithon when they got word to deploy immediately for long range skirmish and that Lady Arano would be in touch on their way down. "I'd kinda like to know what we're jumping in to."

"Can't say much until we're on site," Darius responded, "all we can say for certain is that it's a munitions facility and it will probably be heavily guarded. Watch your ass out there."

"I feel like I'm in someone else's living room," Medusa complained. Yang had pulled the Enforcer he was piloting out of storage. The ENF-4R sported a big AC/10 but the MechTech had installed dual medium lasers on the other side, "I could have just brought Sly's Shadowhawk, you know."

"I thought about it," Hysteria admitted, "but I also figured we'd give the Enforcer a fair shake; see how you like it."

"What's our game plan, boss?" Glitch's cheery voice chirped over the com, "I admit I'm kinda nervous on this one."

"Lady Arano said they will try to make a break for it with the munitions," Hysteria came back, "Glitch I want you and Medusa to prevent that. Vamp and I will stage a primary assault since we have the most armor. Once you insure they don't escape you can move to a support fire role."

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That sounded good, didn't it? Pretty strategic. The layout is right above; seemed pretty easy, to be honest. Strike from an elevated position, plenty of cover. This was going to be a milk run, I was sure of it. Practically relaxing. Why, I might even have time between rounds to sit back and read a book...

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See that was before I hit the ground and saw the listed objectives: DESTROY THE GARRISON UNITS (0/8,) SAVE SIX AMMO CRATES, and SAVE THREE AMMO CRATES. 'Hmm?' I thought, 'Whassat? 0/8? There's two full lances here? Ah, must be a horde of Light Mechs.' After all, I reasoned, this is only a difficult 2 mission. And, yeah, there was a Locust, and a Spider, and a Firestarter... oh and a Panther, you know the Light Mech with the PPC sniper cannon? There was also a Jenner, a Griffin, and a Shadowhawk so that's 5 lights and 2 mediums and, oh, what's that in the distance? A Dragon. You remember the Mech that looks like a cramping Metal Gear? Yeah, he's here too. Oh and 5 turrets. FIVE of them, including sniper turrets firing dual PPC shots. And missiles, oodles of missiles.

Okay, so this would be a bit of a challenge right? But still, difficulty 2. No problem. No sooner than I'd landed did the first Directorate transport try to run with the weapons. I quickly tasked Glitch and Medusa to rush to the left to catch it. There was a turret and a Spider in the way. No biggie; I fired Glitch's jump jets and got her in a position that overlooked the entire facility even as Medusa came around the side and took out the turret. Things are going great! Glitch's Vindy took some big hits though; the Spider hit me and then a rain of missiles came in from multiple unseen sources: other turrets and Mechs. I had just made Glitch their only target. 'Well,' I thought, 'it's alright cause she's about to take out this transport.'

THIS transport:

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That's a pretty big vehicle. Readings showed it at 25 tons, about the same as a Scorpion Light Tank and about 10 tons less than a Striker Assault Vehicle, which I routinely take out with PPC shots. So I have Glitch line up a single shot, with Breaching Shot bonuses, and let fly. I might have scratched the paint. I task Medusa with sprinting after it as I try to move Glitch behind cover. He gets a shot as its speeding away; Alpha Strike... an AC/10 plus 2 medium lasers. I have still barely nicked this thing! That's when I realized these Mad Max supertrucks have about as much armor all over them as Vamp's Centurion does on its center torso! At this point there is no catching this, not unless I just sprint down the road after it and let every single turret light up the Enforcer. But I barely have time to think about that: the rest of my lance is getting chewed up by sensor-locked missile fire coming from the turrets!

Reasoning that I have do do something about the turrets I march Vamp's Cent down the hill and into the water, a godsend on this hot-ass desert map. I follow him with Hysteria's Jager, using his proximity to take out a LRM turret, but now that Vamp is out in the open all 8 Mechs converge on him. At this point I have yet to kill any of the enemy lances. The Spider has some pretty gnarly damage, running around armless and shit, but it is still harassing Vamp. And the Locust? Well Vamp helpfully missed him, wasting a shot that could have been made against another turret. Glitch and Medusa are sticking to the plan, trying to lay fire on the second Mobile HQ so I can't count on them, but Vamp is taking a lot of fire... from everything the enemy has. Suddenly he's down, his stability spent and there's just too many enemies still on the field to ignore. So I do what I said I wouldn't do: I target a stack of ammo crates.

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Now that's a big explosion. I caught three of them in it and it destroyed all three! The Griffin, the Locust, and the Firestarter... all gone in an instant. I was starting to understand why this mission, by far the hardest I think I've had, had only a 2 difficulty rating. The crates were devastating. But before I could get Vamp back on his feet enemy fire destroyed his right arm, his right torso, and just about depleted the last of his CT armor. I got lucky; he survived the salvo only just because I had managed to eliminate three at once, but now he was all but spent. His auto-cannon was gone; all he had left were missiles. I might have risked him if I could have gotten him to cover but his right leg was also scrapped... he could stand, but not really move. For the first time in a mission, I did the unthinkable:

"Vamp!!!" Hysteria screamed into her com as the fire enveloping the downed Centurion mushroomed into the sky and the pieces of the Mech rained down, "Leonard, goddammit, answer me!!"

"Zat hurt, Kommander," his strained voice crackled over the com, his main antenna array was heavily damaged, "But I am still here," his Centurion struggled to its feet, the right leg sparking and sending electric arcs down to the water he was standing in. Hysteria gasped as he tried to turn to his right: the leg threatened to buckle and the arm and right torso were completely gone; she could see his cockpit. "I still have armor on my left," he began, "I can target one of ze ammo crates..."

"Punch out," she said, her voice shaking, "eject. You've done enough." Her mind raced back to Coromodir, on the day that Lady Arano was deposed. "Hysteria," Sir Raju's voice echoed in her mind, "I want you to eject, now. Punch out. You're no good to anybody in a broken Mech and I won't let you die today!"

"Kommander," Vamp protested, "Glitch is bingo armor! If I eject zen you have only two..."

"That's an order, Vamp!" she snapped, "Do it NOW!"

"Зрозумів, Kommander," Vamp replied. Moments later the head of his Centurion was torn open by rocket charges and Vamp, enclosed in his ejection capsule, was launched free. Hysteria knew what he was experiencing; an excess of 4Gs as the capsule rocketed into space.

"Actual," she said into her com, "one for recovery. You got his transponder?"

"We're on it, Commander," Darius' reassuring voice came back, "you stay on task!"

So that was that; I was now down one bullet sponge and there were a cornucopia of bullets left to soak! I called Medusa back over to help mop up, leaving only Glitch to ineffectually harass the fleeing Mobile Headquarters. (Spoiler alert: they got away.) Medusa's Enforcer managed to kill the Jenner and chased down the Spider... until the Dragon arrived. Suddenly he was sandwiched between the Spider, the Dragon, and the Shadowhawk and they literally tore him apart. Within a round he was down, missing both arms, his right and left torso, and without working legs. He was literally waiting to die. Meanwhile the Panther and the sniper turret were just taking the Jagermech apart, piece by piece. Without recourse I targeted a second ammo crate with her AC/5, blowing two turrets and the Panther sky high.

Miraculously, Medusa got another turn. I ejected him as well, even from the prone position. It was now just Hysteria and Glitch and Glitch was far afield and could take one, maybe two shots at most. The plan that formed was reckless and dangerous, and it was one that only Hysteria could pull off: to lure the remaining enemies to an ammo crate and let Glitch blow us all to kingdom come. Hysteria's status as the main character prevented her from dying in battle, I knew this, so it would work. It would cost me greatly though; there wasn't enough armor left on the Jager to prevent its destruction and replacing all of its parts would probably cost me half a million, easy. Fortunately, however, it didn't come to that. The Spider finally fell to a shot from Glitch even as Hysteria kicked the CT out of the Shadowhawk. I was on my way to the nearby ammo crates when I made that attack and the Dragon helpfully repositioned right next to them for his next shot. Glitch blew them but the damned thing was still standing. So he got a face-full of AC/20 and AC/5 and that was enough to FINALLY bring him down.

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And indeed it was. The Enforcer was a total loss, it just wasn't worth repairing. (And boy was Sly glad Medusa didn't take the Shadowhawk!) The Cent's repairs were surprisingly manageable but Vamp and Medusa would go out on medical for over 72 days due to their injuries and Glitch was out for 30! Not stopping the weapons transport hurt my pay, a lot, and with only 5 crates of ammo left my mission total was just over half a million, down from the 1.7 I had been expecting. I had lived it up on the way to this mission, with generous compensation and loan payments, expecting a 2 difficulty story mission to go well. It did not. And it was not about to get better.

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See that crochitty old man? That's Lord Karosas. He's the guy we need to open that archive we found in the Argo's computers. He's also the rightful ruler of Smithon, the place we just liberated. He's also the father of the guy we liberated from prison on Weldry. You'd expect him to be grateful, right? He wasn't. In a rather realistic twist he was pissed. Pissed about his daughter's death fighting in defense of Lady Arano, pissed about Lady Arano's flight into exile, pissed even that his son was essentially broken by his time in prison and the torture he was subjected to: he didn't lay it out specifically but it kind of sounded like:

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At any rate he wasn't ready to join us... yet. He was very bitter and angry about Kamea's abandonment and he demanded that we, her favored mercenaries, do a mission for him and destroy a dropship that he suspected of smuggling arms for the Directorate. I, clearly, wasn't ready. I needed time to heal and make repairs and come to terms with the fact that my extravagant spending on the Argo and payroll had caught up with me. I was now bleeding funds at an alarming rate, not getting the payday I had planned for. So, for the time being, I headed off to greener pastures, i.e. lower difficulty missions. I needed a few milk runs to help offset the hole in my wallet, and I probably need a few heavier Mechs as well... if I can afford them. Til then Yang and his crew will be putting in some overtime.

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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 15

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"Sixty seconds until periapsis orbital insertion," Sumire's voice came across the radio as Hysteria and her lance went through their final startup checklists, "we are in the pipe, five-by-five. Touchdown in the A.O. in approximately five minutes." "Final prep, people," Hysteria keyed up as she primed the Magna 260 Fusion Engine in her Jagermech, monitoring the reading on the GCF ignition panel and watching the Lorentz field for fluctuations, "I want a clean deployment. We don't know how hot the A.O. is going to be." She listened as Vamp, Jester, and Death Krusade all acknowledged. "Local government says all they've got is a single Lance," Darius came over the channel from his position in briefing aboard the Argo, "but you should keep your eyes out for reinforcements. Sacromonte is an subterranean colony due to the lunar terrain and lack of atmo so there's no possible way the local authorities can monitor the entire surface. Outside of a handful of automated monitoring stations a place like this is a pirate's playground." "Think about who you're talking to," Riana smirked as she opened conduits to the ambulatory circuit, feeling the Heavy Mech shiver to life. "I don't think I have to remind you to be careful out there," Darius came back, "keep your masks on and make sure those emergency O2 circulators have enough charge." "Yes, mom," Hysteria slipped her mask on and adjusted the straps. "How much trouble we expecting, here?" Death Krusade asked with a suspicious tone, "I thought this was some two-bit pirate outfit; probably a couple 'o Light Mechs, maybe a few vehicles..." "Doesn't hurt to expect trouble, Kru," Hysteria answered, "I'd rather roll over a handful of Locusts with extreme prejudice than get sandwiched between two lances of Dragons and Cataphrachs." "Good point," the Solaran acknowledged. "Don't worry, Kru," Riana assured him, "you'll get your chance to test out that new Federated AC/20 Yang installed," "My AC/20," Vamp pouted, "You'll get more range with the AC/10 anyway, Vamp, so zip it," Hysteria cut him off, "and both of you should be able to make good use of the Flamers he installed in this environment, so get up close and personal. You've now got tons of armor to play with." "Red line," Sumire interrupted, "three minutes to deployment," everyone could feel Sacromonte's gravity begin to pull at them as the pilot guided the Leopard closer to the surface, "spooling power to the umbilicals," she added as she flipped a series of switches in the cockpit, green lights illuminating as she went, "gravity's light but don't get sick!" Hysteria's Mech shuddered as the Umbilical Deployment Arm calibrated for her adjusted weight. In a deployment to a potentially hot zone it just made more sense to use the UDA than to rely on the Mechs walking off the Leopard, a parked dropship was too tempting of a target. "Jester I want a standard run-up," she went across the radio, "don't wait for us. Just get that first Sensor Lock and then find cover. Can't have you trading in a vacuum." "Copy that, boss," Jester replied with his characteristic professionalism, "I'll keep my eye on my sinks." Suddenly Hysteria's Mech jerked upwards as the UDA lifted it clear of the deck and moved it closer to the door. "Jesus," Jester exclaimed, "you might give us a warning next time, Meyer!" "Sorry," her reply was quiet and distracted as she kept one eye on the terrain racing underneath them and the other on the PFD, counting off the klicks to their A.O. "The pirate lance should be just north of the A.O.," Darius offered, "but our scans are clear. Could be they're too small to pick up or they could be hidden." "The Argo's a big ship," Lord Madeira cut in, "with no atmosphere or cloud cover it's entirely possible they could have spotted our passage in orbit." "Or the local government might not be the only ones with sensors in place," Riana suggested, "Keep in mind Sacromonte serves as a critical shipping and travel link between the Aurigan region and the Magistracy. Trade, both legal and otherwise, thrives here." "Tell me again the fuckin' reason why the locals can't handle these pirates?" Kru asked. "Who gives a shit?" Hysteria countered, "It's half a mil for us." "Locals want to project 'overwhelming military force,'" Darius offered helpfully, "and since they lack an overwhelming military..." "They hire us," Vamp finished his sentence, "Ve can do overvelming military presence, easy." "Thirty seconds," Sumire cut in. She flipped four switches and, in the bay, the red light above the doors turned green. "Prepare for combat deployment." "Do not arm weapons systems until we are on the surface," Hysteria reminded them. She braced herself, taking hold of the cage harness and letting the Alignment Control System handle touchdown as the Leopard pulled up sharply, the ventral thrusters firing and arresting the dropship's speed in moments. "If you have any lunch, lose it now!" she quipped, the G-forces pressing her up against the cage as the ship lurched level again just before the doors fired open. The UDA accelerated her Mech, firing it over the lunar terrain before the movement slammed to a halt, just past the door, and detached. For just a moment the 65-ton Mech was in freefall prior to the feet impacting the surface of Sacromonte, the ACS automatically adjusting for the Battlemech's balance. "Clear!" Hysteria shouted as she released her grip and took hold of the controls, righting the Jagermech manually as the Leopard fired its thrusters, kicking up a maelstrom of particulate dust as it lifted form the surface, doors closing as it took off at a 45° angle.

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"Actual, package is delivered," she said as she accelerated into the void above, "Envoy is clear and standing by."

"Sound off!" Hysteria commanded as she powered up her auto-cannons.

"Cav, good to go," Jester said as the Jenner roared by her heading north/northwest at a full sprint, "board is green and sensors coming online."

"CC ready," Vamp was next, "all systems go."

"Assault, ready to rock," Kru said with confidence, "time to see what this baby can really do!"

"Zat baby fit really well on my Centurion," Vamp jeered.

"Stow it," Hysteria warned as she turned her Mech to follow Jester's lead, "I've got rear, you two watch our flanks. Their drop zone was near the ended of a large crater and the lance advanced towards the edge with Jester in the lead. There was a roughly smooth path leading up to the lip of the crater and soon Jester passed out of sight. "Cav, report," Hysteria said as the rest of the lance hurried to keep up, "sitrep."

"Commander," Darius' voice cut in, "we're picking up multiple signatures coming in north/northwest. You're heading right for them."

"I've got one on my screen," Jester reported, "establishing sensor lock... got 'em. Looks like a Spider."

"Izzat all?" Kru snorted, "I'll break right, you go left."

"Okie-dokie," Vamp replied cheerfully.

"Don't get cocky," Hysteria reminded them, but then added, "and try to save me some!"

"Here they come," Jester spoke next, "Commander new bogies; I've got a second Spider and something else coming in fast from the northwest."

"Big deal," Kru said dismissively, "see? A trio of Light Mechs. I told yous," he grinned as the first Spider came into view, it was moving fast. "Taking an Alpha Strike," he said as he fired the massive AC/20 on his right shoulder, followed by an extended burst from the medium laser on his left arm. The auto-cannon shot sailed wide, the smaller Mech racing ahead of it, but the experienced pilot tracked the enemy for the duration of the laser burst." Dammit," he cursed, "fast lil' bastards, aren't they?"

"He's mine," Vamp swore, firing his AC/10. The shot took off the Spider's left arm at the shoulder just before his salvo of SRMs crashed into it. The Mech stumbled, but managed to keep it's feet, "persistent, aren't you?" he asked as the one-armed Spider fired its medium lasers at Jester's position.

"Hey!" Jester exclaimed, "Commander I'm taking fire from the left and the right here! Other contact is a Locust and..." he paused, his HFORS display reading multiple incoming foxes, "quaternary contact! Inbound IDF! Taking evasive action!"

"Get out of there, Cav," Hysteria ordered as she finally mounted the crater's edge. She locked in her first target, the one-armed Spider, and then sighted her AC/20 on the second Spider, "Heavy; shot one," the Kali Yama fired but the shot passed right behind the racing Spider, blowing the lunar terrain into the sky where the debris hung lazily in the low G, "shit!" she cursed, swiveling the Jager's torso to line up her AC/5 on the one-armed Spider, "Heavy; shot two," the auto-cannon tore into the Light Mech, ripping apart its left torso and sending the Spider skidding to its right.

"Good shot," Jester offered as he pulled alongside Hysteria's left, just coming into her peripheral, "let's try mine!" He lit up an Alpha Strike; four medium laser blasts and the accompanying SRM volley all tore into the damaged Mech and blew apart its Center Torso. Pieces were already exploding when the missile rain began to impact. "Heh, heh," he chuckled, "Tango down."

"Watch your heat," Hysteria reminded him, taking note of the Locust coming in from the left, "Assault?" her voiced piqued, as if to inquire if he saw the approach.

"I got the other Spider," came Kru's reply, his AC/20 and laser firing into the Light Mech just after it finished firing its twin lasers into Vamp's Cent, "Take that, you mook pirate scum!"

"Zanks," Vamp said as he strode forward and laid into the Spider with a big left hook. The Mech had already been stumbling to its right when the blow connected, throwing it off balance. Just then Vamp activated his new flamer, dousing the Spider in a jet of flaming liquid. Vamp laughed as the Mech stumbled to keep its footing. "Look, he's dancing!" he joked, "Oh zis one is on fire!"

"Taking fire again, Commander," Jester reported, as the Locust kept him in its sights, "re-positioning."

"Let's see if I can get his attention," Hysteria swiveled and fired with her AC/20. The impact hit the Mech's CT and it slid backwards from the impact but, somehow, kept on its feet, a cloud of slagged armor marking where it once stood. "Tough little bastards," she admitted in frustration.

"I'm still taking ID fire," Jester called, his Mech dashing through a hail of missiles, sliding to a stop to the right rear of the Locust, "Guess I'll take it out on this guy!" He lit up for another Alpha Strike, blasting apart the recently damaged Locust as the temperature alarm sounded in his cockpit.

"Find somewhere and cool off," Hysteria ordered, "and get far enough away that those missiles won't be able to lock on you."

"Roger that," he replied as he moved the Jenner north, "I'm low on armor as it is. They keep hitting structure."

"We're here to make money, not spend it on repairs," she reminded him as she watched Kru and Vamp take turns pummeling the Spider with melee attacks.

"Rrraah!" Kru yelled as his Hunchback's punch tore through the Light Mech's left torso, ripping off the arm in a dramatic shower of parts, "and then you get some of this!" he continued, igniting his flamer just after Vamp's kick dislocated the Spider's right knee. The Cent's flamer fired as well as both Mechs followed the Spider's descent to the ground, scorching it until its entire frame glowed red hot.

"Commander, contacts to the south," Darius interrupted, "I'm reading four signatures, heading for the same path you took."

"Cav, get me a sensor lock," Hysteria began as she spun her Mech around, "Assault, you're with me; let's roll out the welcome mat!"

"You've got three vehicles," Jester reported, "two 60-ton and one 35. Looks like a Locust inbound as well. Sensor locked."

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"I can't get him from here," Hysteria reported, taking up a position with a good view of the access to the top of the crater, "but I can wait..." She didn't have to wait long until the first vehicle, a 60-ton Bulldog heavy tank, rolled into view, "Hello baby," she smiled as she squeezed off a burst from her Kali Yama. It streaked towards the tank, already in bad repair, and tore through it. Tank and soil exploded into the sky in an eruption of evaporating fire.

"Heh, the next guy in line just crapped his pants!" Kru chuckled as he raced past her at full sprint, taking up a similar, but closer position. "Come to daddy," he sang as he waited for the next pirate to appear.

Meanwhile Vamp clanged his Cent's arms together as he waited patiently for the Spider to climb back to its feet. No doubt its internal systems were ravaged by the overheating and the Light Mech struggled to stand on its ruined right leg. "Are you feeling better?" he asked as he wound up for another big hit, "zat's good because I owe you one!" The Cent's right fist connected with the still-glowing metal of the Spider's CT and punched right through it. Red hot fragments exploded out of the Mech's back and trailed after the strike as the rest of the Spider collapsed into scrap. "Another Tango down, Kommander," he reported, do you zink zere will be some left for me?" He turned as he watched the Jenner approach a vantage high atop the crater's lip; Jester trying to get a firing arc on the enemy below.

"It doesn't look like it," Kru said, his shot destroying a Striker in a single hit even as Hysteria's fire finished a second Bulldog, "except for the Locust it looks like we're done here and that yellow bastard just turned tail and ran!"

"Don't worry," Hysteria began, "there's nowhere he can run! Heavy to Envoy; you feel like a little hunting?"

Before Sumire could answer Jester's voice flooded the channel; "DEATH FROM ABOVE!!!"

"Cav, what the actual ****!" Hysteria gasped as she watched the Jenner fire its jump jets and arc from the top of a 60 meter drop before cutting thrust and falling, feet first, right through the fleeing Locust. The Light Mech exploded all around the Jenner as it struggled to keep its feet. The metal of the legs bent and fractured as pieces of armor flayed off of it as they struggled to hold up the 35-ton weight, the head of the Mech coming dangerously close to the ground. "Jester!" she screamed, "Are you okay??"

"I'm okay," he came back after a tense moment, "little shook up... did you see that?"

"Yeah I saw it!" Hysteria snapped, "Jester, those Mechs cost money!"

"I know, boss," he admitted, "but I can't let Vamp and Death Krusade do all the crazy shit!"

"Heavy to Actual," Hysteria's voice was full of irritation, "mission complete. Damage to the lance... negligible, except for the Jenner which appears to have lost a contest between the pirates and its pilot as to who could do the most damage!!"

"Guess we'll have to invite Jester to our next discussion about the financials," Sumire's voice came over the radio as the Leopard swung into view, leveling out and sitting down inside the crater.

"I hope it was worth it, Jester," Hysteria began as the lance trundled back towards the drop ship, "because you just volunteered for Yang's crew all the way to Smithon!"

"Did anyone at least catch that on holovid?" Jester asked.

"Are yous kidding me?" Death Krusade laughed, "I'm gonna upload that shit to to the Darwin Awards tonight!"

"Then yeah," Jester grinned, "it was worth it."

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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 14

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Meet the Hunchback HBK-4G. Yeah, this was the Mech that gave me so much trouble on Panzyr, targeting and pursuing Medusa in the Jenner. I didn't include it in the entry but after Medusa dropped the control tower this sonovabitch managed to nail him in the left side once more, blowing off the Jenner's left arm and the two Medium Lasers there. I had opted for selecting just one piece of salvage from that mission, putting all of my financial eggs in this basket. The last entry was correct: I had already chosen Extravagant Expenses the month before and the 1.7 million windfall from Panzyr enticed me to do it again. I picked a piece of the Dragon Mech (1 of 3) and the game automatically gave me 3 pieces of the Hunchback, so yay! Brand new Mech. The Hunchback is a Medium-Class Mech that behaves like a Heavy. At 50 tons it is technically smaller than the Shadowhawk but it is built entirely around the AC/20 primary weapon it carries. They tossed in a pair of Medium Lasers but that. is. it.

I tend to assign my crew a 'main' Mech to pilot. Hysteria had her Blackjack until she moved to the Jagermech, Big Sly took over from Behemoth (R.I.P) in the Shadowhawk, Jester has the Jenner, Glitch has her Vindy, and Vamp? Everyone's favorite Ukrainian party-boy works it in his over-armored Centurion. Medusa? He's my floater. His original Spider Mech proved to be weaksauce so now he mostly spars with Jester over the Jenner but I'll put him in whatever Mech is available since he has pretty good all around stats.

I should have given Medusa the Hunchback, that would have been fair, but instead I took a liking to Death Krusade and his Jersey accent. When I met him he looked like this:

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54k a month is a pretty steep fee for a guy I really don't need and those initial stats aren't too much to love either, especially since Hysteria and Glitch, my two main shooters, have an 8 where he has a 5. Plus there was the matter of the 64k initial hiring fee too, (man, this guy was confident of his skill,) but when I dug into his enigmatic backstory... well, just have a look:

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He was also a Kickstarter Backer, like Big Sly, Jester, and even ol' Deadeye so in a moment of impulse buying I hired him; he looked like a good Hunchback pilot, I thought, and off I went on the first of two missions with the same goal: to root out a stubborn Directorate Lance that just didn't know when to lay down arms.

The first operation I landed with Hysteria in her Jager, Jester in the Jenner, Vamp in the Centurion, and Death Krusade in the Hunchback. One of the first things I realized is that the Hunch is slow, mega-slow, and it can do very little with Jester's Sensor Lock. It, much like how I envision Kru's attitude, is in-your-face up close and personal. Sticking to the cover of the trees I let the enemy Lance come to me... and dismantled it. One by one they came into the firing arcs of 3 AC/20 autocannons. It was a thing of beauty.

I fielded the same team for the second mission. This time I started at the base of a hill and the enemy was on top, so I had to work my way up but it didn't prove to be much trouble. Since Vamp's Cent and and Hysteria's Jager both have advanced AC/20s I was giving thought to how I wanted to outfit the Hunch. It seems appropriate that it should keep the AC/20, so I'm considering a different layout for the Centurion since Hysteria would never part with that Kali Yama. I'm thinking about stripping off those Medium Lasers and replacing them with a good set of LRM launchers. I haven't decided yet but I know, given Kru's attitude in my head canon, that I'm gonna need more armor!

For now I'm leaving Panzyr and heading back to Herotitus. A lot of the missions here sit at 3 or 3.5 difficulty and the most I can field is 2.5. So I'll slum around the old neighborhoods a bit, pad that nest egg so Su-chan can calm her tits a bit, and then give one of these higher missions a try. Lady Arano's next mission just popped up as I got to the jumpship to Herotitus so I can't afford to mess around for long.

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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 13

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The bass reverberated down the hallway as Sumire and Vamp followed Riana down the hallway. "Commander," the pilot began, "are you sure this is the way? It sounds more like a..." they rounded the corner as the hallway opened up into a large room, complete with an elevated walkway, a sea of tables, and even a dancer-filled stage, "... bar." Sumire's tone fell flat and her expression sank, "Riana, you said we were checking out the Hiring Hall, though I don't know why."

"Relax, Su-chan," Riana teased playfully, spinning about and spreading her arms as she continued into the large club, "this is a hiring hall... and a bar. The best kind of hiring hall! And you know I just like to look; never hurts to see who's available."

"Ooo, dancers," Vamp purred behind them, "Kommander, if is alright..."

"Go, have fun," Riana smiled, "Su-chan and I will grab a drink and check out who's on offer."

"Stop calling me that," Sumire narrowed her eyes, "this trip is already a waste of time! We have enough pilots as it is not to mention," she lifted her ever-present datapad and began to tap on it, "we are twenty-two days out from our next financial report which, I might add, is when we have to pay for your extravagant expenses!"

"Su, we just got paid," Riana said dismissively, turning and leading the reluctant pilot deeper into the room, "One-point-seven mil, if you recall."

"One-point-seven mil that you've already spent!!" Meyer raised her voice to be heard over the thumping bass, "You can't count money that you no longer have, Riana!"

"I didn't spend, it, Su-chan," Riana countered, working her way through the festive crowd, "I invested it. The repaired power conduits allowed for six more Mech bays to be brought online, which is an investment, Su, not to mention that will bring more automated systems online, making Yang's job easier."

"Six more Mech cubicles means more Mechs brought out of storage," Sumire shot back, shoving a patron out of her way, "more Mechs brought out of storage means more maintenance, that means more expenses on the Financial Report!"

"Besides," Riana continued undeterred, "I only invested nine-hundred K that still leaves..." she paused to count in her head, pulling up her hand and rhythmically closing fingers into a fist, "... a lot of the initial one-point-seven... so relax! Let's have a drink! Have some fun!"

"When we do the financials we're looking at nearly, if not more than, seven-hundred thousand!" Sumire's hand shot out and grabbed Riana by the arm, pulling her attention to her physically, "Principle, interest, and payroll! That makes our monthly profit only one hundred thousand!"

Riana smirked, pulling her arm away. "Profit, Sumire," she took her hands and patted both of Meyer's shoulders, as if to reassure her, "Might I remind you we're still sitting on seven million? That's a lot better that we were managing before we started working with the Restoration, back when we were afraid the Leopard was going to be repossessed. Yeah, so I decided to spend a little extravagantly this month, Revenge has earned it; we could all use a little reward and as long as these fat Restoration paydays are on the horizon I can't see any harm, so relax, will ya?"

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"We spent extravagantly last month too," Meyer deadpanned, "six hundred-sixty five thousand, Riana. Biggest payroll I've ever had to put together... that was eight days ago!"

"Maybe I should hire someone to do payroll," Riana thought aloud, one hand moving to her chin, "I mean if it stresses you out..."

"You stress me out!" Sumire stomped one foot. It was a cute, pouty action that unintentionally endeared the pilot all the more to Riana, the opposite reaction she was going for.

"Look, Riana reached out and put a hand on her shoulder as the two arrived at one of the bars in the expansive club, "That's the real reason why we're here. I want you to relax, have a good time. That was an incredible piece of flying you did back in the debris field, navigating that unassisted? The stuff of legend, Su. I wanna show my gratitude," she turned her attention as a husky bartender leaned in close to get their order, "Gimmie a PPC, a Kerensky Sour," she paused and looked back at Sumire before finishing, "and two Marik Gunfighters."

"You want to show your gratitude by getting me drunk?" Sumire exclaimed in disbelief, "There's four shots of pure grain alcohol in a PPC!"

"And blue curaçao," Riana shrugged, "besides, that's for me."

"I've got to fly us back to the Argo tonight!" Her face reddened.

"Su, relax," Riana's flared her eyes as she put her arm all the way around the pilot, "please. Let's just have a good time for a while, okay? The whole planet is celebrating tonight," she held up both arms and shimmied her hips as she added: "Party on Panzyr! It wouldn't have happened without you. Just... let go, tonight. You said yourself you could fly that field blind with the nav-aid from the tower."

"The tower that Medusa leveled?" Sumire shot back, "I had to come in via the southern hemi, that's why flight time took so long. Besides, blind and drunk are two different things!"

"Not for long!" Riana squeaked as the bartender delivered their drinks. She quickly lifted the glass of clear blue liquid as she slid the orangeish sour towards the pilot, "What should we toast to?" she asked with girlish enthusiasm.

"A short night?" Su offered dourly.

"Not a chance in hell," Riana lifted the right corner of her mouth in a lop-sided grin, "TO SUMIRE MEYER!" she intoned loud enough to draw attention, "HERE'S TO THE PILOT THAT FLEW THE FIELD UNASSISTED AND LIBERATED PANZYR!"

The toast drew raucous cheers from the inebriated crowd, most of whom now craned their necks to get a look at this hitherto unknown hero, as Sumire's entire face turned beet-red. She tilted back and shot her entire drink in one gulp, as if she could swallow her embarrassment whole like a snake, meanwhile Riana mounted a stool, placing one foot on the bar, and pointed to draw further attention to the shrinking pilot. After the bartender shooed her down and the general din returned to normal Sumire hissed under her breath: "I hate you."

"Here," Riana ignored the comment, if she heard it at all, and handed her a second drink, snatching its twin from the bar. Sumire looked down into the murky, brownish liquid, catching the sickly sweet scent of licorice emanating from it, "Let's grab a table, are you hungry?"

"What's in this?" she asked, crinkling her nose.

"Alcohol," Riana offered helpfully, "C'mon, let's find a quieter spot."

"Does that exist here?" Sumire asked incredulously.

"Not really," she grabbed the pilot by the hand, almost causing her to drop her datapad which she quickly tucked under her arm with her glass gripped in her teeth while the Commander pulled her through the club to a darker corner where she'd spied Vamp earlier.

"What are you looking for?" Sumire asked after a few minutes of fruitless searching, the burly pilot was nowhere to be found.

"A place to sit," Riana mused, pausing to look around. She was sure she had seen Vamp come this way... or was it the other way? She shrugged, her eyes settling on a gruff, dangerous-looking man with black hair and a goatee. 'Maybe it was him I saw?' she wondered to herself, realizing that, from a distance, the man resembled Vamp.

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"You gotta problem?" the man growled out in a thick Solaran accent, one eye squinting down as he fixed the women with a smoldering glare.

"Yeah," Riana returned cooly, "need a place to sit. This spot taken?" Sumire gasped, physically pulling against the Commander in resistance but the ex-pirate wouldn't budge.

"Heh," the Solaran snorted, "I look like I own the joint? Yous free to sit where yous like."

"Thank you," Riana pulled a chair out, intending to offer it to the pilot but Sumire skittered to her left, away from the man, and took the seat next to her. The Commander shifted, as if she always intended to take the seat, and slid into it, lifting her glass as a salutation, "Riana, Riana Klaue. This is Sumire Meyer."

"Todd Ryia," the man lifted a glass of clear spirits, its accompanying bottle sitting nearby, "nice ribbons," he traced two fingers down the right side of his face, under his eye, indicating the position of her scars, "you get those in a Battlemech?"

"Mmm," she nodded, letting her fingers on her left hand rake gently across the side of her face, "Is that where you got yours?"

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"Some of 'em," he nodded, "Callsign Death Krusade. Yous a merc like me?"

"Hysteria," she lifted her chin confidently, "Commander of Queen Kamea's Revenge. Maybe you've heard of us?"

"Should I have?" he asked nonchalantly, clearly accustomed to the banter and swagger of Mechwarriors.

"If you're sitting on Panzyr tonight, probably," she narrowed her eyes and let a sly grin splay across her face, "we shut down the last spaceport and cut off the Directorate reinforcements. Just might say we won the day."

"I might say yous the reason I'm stuck here!" He took a drink from his glass, never breaking eye contact with her, "I was gonna leave this rock today, look for work in a quieter corner of space."

"Why?" Riana lifted a hand, palm-up, imploringly, "I mean, not to beleaguer the point, but you're a mercenary, right? Why didn't you sign up with the Directorate?"

"Cause I got this policy, see? I never work for assholes," she grinned as he spoke, "these Directorate mooks are out here making people's lives miserable, the whole Aurigan Reach is run like a prison camp!"

"So what are you doing here?" Sumire cut in, her curiosity overriding her better judgment, "If you're a merc in Directorate space you had to be looking for a job. What changed your mind?"

"I wasn't looking for a job," he shook his head, "I was looking for a girl," then a moment later he corrected; "a woman. Came here following a lead and got stuck here when the Directorate shut down civvie travel after the Restoration landed. Been stuck here for weeks. I was hoping I could get out tonight but turns out some chooch blew up the control tower!" He glared at Riana accusingly.

"Oh, Todd," Riana purred, "didn't you know that chasing women can cause some inconvenience?"

"Yeah, it's real funny," he filled his glass from the bottle once more, "and the best part of the joke is yous stuck here with me!"

"I'm not stuck anywhere," Riana cut her eyes over to Sumire, "Su-chan here navigated the debris field unassisted to drop us for our op, how did you think we got down?"

"Hysteria, why are you bringing me into this?" the pilot squeaked.

"In fact," Riana continued, "I don't see how you're stuck either, all a pilot has to do is cut around the southern hemisphere; you can avoid the whole field. Sure it takes a little longer, and it's out of the way..."

"And a lot more expensive," Death Krusade growled, "atmo travel chews up fuel. Those costs get passed along!"

"But I'm sure the Restoration will have a control tower up, if they don't already." Riana finished her drink along with her point.

"And it's priority service only," the merc snarled, "Restoration business and all. Civvies gotta wait."

"So let me get this straight," Riana looked over at Sumire's barely touched glass and, with a nod from the pilot, gave herself permission to drink from it, "you're mad at us for ending Directorate occupation of Panzyr because we took a job to shut down the spaceport and, thus, stop reinforcements from dragging this battle out several more weeks. Is that right?"

"Something like that," Death Krusade took another drink as well.

"Looking for work?" she lifted one eyebrow, Sumire's drink in her hand.

"Riana! Can I talk to you?" Sumire pulled at her arm.

"You offering me a job?" His tone piqued and he sat up straight in his chair, "What kind of Mech?"

"Got a Hunchback my Mechtech just slapped together," she tilted her head as she spoke, "practically new."

"Riana!" Sumire snapped, pinching the inside of her biceps hard, "Now!" Refusing to release the pincer-grip on the tender meat of her arm, the pilot physically hauled Riana away from the table and closer to one of the smaller bars in the club.

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"Ow, ow, ow!" Riana finally jerked away, "Damn, you've got nails! What the hell..."

"What did we just talk about??" Sumire pointed at her accusingly.

"That you need to relax?" Riana offered.

"That you're bleeding money out of the company at an alarming rate!" she hissed, "We don't need another pilot! We've got Medusa, Jester, Vamp, Sly, Glitch, and you! Six Mech bays, six pilots!" She jerked an arm over in Death Krusade's direction and pointed at him, "We only ever field four in a lance so why in the hell do we want an added expense??"

"But we're about to have twelve Mechs bays," Riana reminded her gently, "and doesn't he just seem like the kind of person to pilot a Hunchback?"

"Rrrargh!" the pilot growled, "Can you at least try to think about the upcoming financials??"

"Su, look," Riana scooped an arm around her and lightly guided her back towards the table, "let's give him a shot. Sure, maybe he'll be a short-timer like Deadeye or Panda or... that guy, what was his name?"

"Hibagon?" she offered.

"Hibagon! That's the guy!" Riana looked wistful, "Poor Hibagon. He was a good guy! I wish we could have afforded to keep him on... I swear if we ever meet him again..."

"Riana," Sumire snarled, "I don't think we can afford to keep this guy on!"

"Time will tell," Riana relented, "but I like him. I wanna give him a shot, besides... we kinda owe him."

"That's bullshit and you know it," the pilot cut her eyes at him, "if you bought that sob story we can just give him a lift to our next job!"

"Well," the Commander began, but just then a very drunken Vamp emerged from the crowd.

"Дами!" he exclaimed, spreading his arms far apart, "Oh, my friends... how I have missed you!" He stumbled into them and laid a sweaty arm over both womens' shoulders.

"How much did you drink??" Sumire pulled away from him, noting the sweat stains in his armpits. Without her support his weight shifted to Riana, who struggled to keep him up.

"Just a glass or two," he slurred, "zis place is amazing! Ze women here are," he hiccuped as he brought his fingers to his lips and Riana noticed for the first time the lipstick on his neck.

"He's drugged," she lowered her brow.

"You took drugs??" Sumire gasped and put her hands on her hips.

"He didn't take drugs, he was given drugs," Riana corrected, "common scam. Pimps send their girls out to drug Mechwarriors on shore leave, in the hopes of lifting a significant amount out of their wallet."

"They think Mechwarriors are rich?" Sumire asked, dubiously.

"It's a glamorous life," Riana said sarcastically as Vamp started to fade, his eyes fluttered and his solid frame began to slide down to the floor, "So... you wanna carry him or can I hire the guy?" He slipped from her grasp and hit the floor, hard. His head echoing with a wet-sounding thud.

"He looks... heavy," Meyer said as the two just stared at him on the floor.

"Yep," Riana nodded, "can I hire the guy?" she repeated.

All right," Sumire relented with a sigh, arms akimbo, "you win. Hire the guy."

"Yay!" Riana clapped her hands together in glee, spinning on her heel and rushing back to Death Krusade.

Sumire sighed. "Yeah," she looked at the unconscious Vamp at her feet, a line of drool running down his cheek, "I really do need to relax."

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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 12

This entry will contain spoilers for the story mission Liberation: Panzyr.

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"Welcome to Panzyr, Commander Klaue," Lord Madeira began, "Lady Arano and the Restoration Army are already fighting on the planet's surface and have been for weeks."

"She could have called us earlier," Riana said poutingly, "we were on Untran just doing missions for the Capellans and the local government," she smirked, "playing both sides."

"Which is literally a mercenary's job, Boss," Yang muttered, "Lady Arano has an army, you know, for actual war-fighting." Riana turned her head and stuck her tongue out at him, childishly.

"Ahem," Lord Madeira cleared his throat and continued, "With the aid of House Decimis' ground support facilities, Ms. Meyer will carry your lance through Panzyr's orbital debris field and drop you on the surface."

"You feeling okay with this, Sumire?" Hysteria dropped her playful tone. The debris field was no laughing matter; a holdover from the Amaris Civil War that ended the Star League it was the remains of a great battle that happened in orbit over Panzyr. A dense field of particulate material and wreckage that tested even the best of pilots... and ended many who underestimated it.

"Oh, yeah, Commander, no sweat," the pilot said dismissively, "With the kind of navigation support I'll be getting from ground control? I could take us through the field with my eyes closed."

"Would very much prefer them open, thank you," Big Sly muttered from his corner in the room.

"Let's keep going," Hysteria ignored him, "What happens after we're on the surface?"

"Lady Arano wants your lance behind enemy lines," Madeira continued, "while she leads from the front, you will harass the Directorate's supply train and target valuable military hardware. She already has a target list drawn up for you."

"Shiny!" Glitch chirped, her pervasive sunny attitude drawing an annoyed glare from Medusa.

"Hold that thought," the deflated tone of Sumire's voice heralded bad news, "Lord Madeira, Commander, I'm getting a tight-beam communication from the planet's surface. It's Lady Arano, and it looks urgent." The room grew pensive as looks were exchanged. "I'm putting it on-screen now." The Holo-table flickered and the blue-tinged, scan-lined image of High Lady Kamea Arano appeared.

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"Hysteria," she began, her features softening slightly at the sight of her former Royal Guard, "You couldn't have arrived at a better time... our forces on the surface desperately need your help."

Riana's pulse quickened but she suppressed a smile, aware of Yang's eyes upon her. 'Not giving you the satisfaction, old man,' she thought as the faintest hint of a grin pulled at her right cheek, "Revenge is yours, my Lady. How can we help?"

"With the support of House Decimis we're making our final push against the Directorate's last major stronghold," the Lady's voice was full of pride as she spoke, "Our forces are fully committed to the attack, and we're pushing them back... but the Directorate just seized control of Panzyr's only remaining spaceport," her voice took on a deadly serious tone, "with it they will be able to call down reinforcements at will."

An amplified silence raced around the room. Yang rested his face in his meat hand as Sumire rolled her eyes and tilted her head back, her mouth hanging agape. Suddenly Medusa let out an audible groan. "Is..." Glitch's voice broke the silence further and she recoiled and paused as the others turned to look at her, "I take it that's a bad thing?" she asked sheepishly.

"I need someone to take the spaceport's control tower away from them," Lady Arano continued, "Hysteria, that someone is going to have to be you."

"And we are more than happy to help," Riana answered, spreading her arms to indicate her company, "but if they have control of the dropship control center what does this mean for us?"

"This means that Ms. Meyer will need to carry you through the debris field unassisted," Kamea answered gravely, "I hope that her skills are up to the task."

"Well," Sumire said with a sigh of exasperation, "this day just got more interesting."

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Such was our introduction to the critical story mission Liberation: Panzyr. I was excited to see how the game might handle Sumire's approach through the debris field but it was all left to the imagination. We deployed in a polar environment; Hysteria in the Jagermech, Sly in the Shadowhawk, Glitch in her Vindy, and Medusa was piloting the Jenner due to Jester recovering from minor injuries suffered on subsequent missions on Untran before we headed for Panzyr. The lance was outfitted for long-range combat, as usual, so you can imagine my shock and stress when two objectives appeared: DESTROY THE GARRISON UNITS6 rounds remain, and DESTROY THE DROPSHIP CONTROL CENTER BEFORE THE ADV CORONACH Great. Timed objectives. No leisurely approach from great distance for me. As I moved forward to the garrison I was met with 5 vehicle signatures. I had Medusa Sensor Lock one of them... a 60 ton vehicle. For reference that is heavier than the Shadowhawk! "Commander, I'm seeing Directorate SRM carriers on radar," Kamea's transmission interrupted, "Recommend engaging them at long range- they'll take you apart if you let them get close." A quick look at the sensor scan revealed the ugly truth of that statement: these bastards were sporting 10 SRM-6s. (Short Range Missiles; volleys of 6) That's a potential of 800 damage in a single strike; enough to nearly destroy any Mech on the field, not to mention enough Stability damage to knock just about any Mech off its feet in one volley. I took another look at that timer: 6 rounds? Seemed an awful short time to wipe out 5 vehicles. I wondered if the 15 round mission timer would hold until it was done?

ARRIVES 15 rounds remain.

The answer was no. Although I managed to take out the SRM carrier with a single, well-place shot from the Vindy's PPC the other 4 vehicles raced up and let fly with their payloads. There were 2 Bulldog heavy tanks, also 60 tons (which it turns out is about the weight of an M1A1) and a Striker fast assault vehicle as well. and they all unloaded... at Medusa in the Jenner. This stripped armor from his left side with startling efficiency and even punched through to do structural damage as well. Very quickly I relocated the Jenner and brought up Big Sly in the Shadowhawk to take his place. Hysteria's monster cannons (AC/5 for range and that AC/20++ Kali Yama) nailed two shots deep into the armor of the Bulldogs but they persisted, even when they also took fire from Sly, but Glitch managed to take out the Striker with a combination PPC/LRM shot.

Just then the second SRM carrier appeared from the right (east) and fired an ENORMOUS amount of short range missiles into Sly's Shadowhawk. Thank god he divided his assault, also sending missiles after the Jenner and the Jagermech because what did hit the Shadowhawk removed most of his armor... in one shot. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for me) the SRM carrier was now in range of Hysteria's guns so, with rapidity, he was no longer a concern. One more Bulldog fell as well as I sent the Jenner to stomp the remaining one, which he did, but it lived. Fortunately Sly got another turn before he could retaliate and another AC/5 shot proved too much. The Garrison was ours, with 1 round to spare. That meant that there was only 10 rounds to get to the Dropship Control Center... and it was far away.

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That's the view of the spaceport from the west. The target is off the left side of the picture while our position was that shadowy, darkened area to the right behind the big, nipply spaceships. It would be a long walk if there weren't 6 fully armored Mechs standing between us and the control center; a Jenner JR7-D, Centurion CN9-AL, Trebuchet TBT-5N, Panther PNT-9L, Hunchback NBK-4G and a Dragon DRG-1N. If you've been following along you may recognize the Jenner, the Centurion, and even the Panther as some of my go-to Mechs. Now add to that an extremely heavily-armed Trebuchet, an AC/20-carrying Hunchback, and the Dragon? Well the best way to describe this heavy Mech is to take Metal Gear and give it PMS.

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Fortunately House Decimis had my back. They took control of the Garrison's turrets and turned them on the Directorate forces. This was not as effective as one might hope. These turrets had Stormtrooper targeting, let me tell you. So now I've got Glitch on a hill overlooking the spaceport, sniping away, my Jenner cowering behind cover trying to establish locks, Sly also hiding on the hill just firing at what he can since he's missing most of his armor, and Hysteria lumbering ahead trying to get close enough to get into range for her AC/20 but not close enough to be the sole target for 6 angry Mechs. I did 3 rounds of this, dealing damage but not destroying anyone, until I was reminded: the ADV Coronach is still enroute. Looking up I had 6 rounds remaining. Just 6 and virtually no progress. I had to have a plan.

"Medusa," Hysteria's voice came over a direct encrypted channel.

"Go, boss," he responded.

"I need you to head around north," she began, "full sprint. The Coronach is almost through the debris field and if it makes landfall..."

"Hysteria, that's a suicide run," Mohammed's voice crackled, "I'm sitting bingo armor on my port side; if they hit me..." he let his point hang.

"They have to hit you first," she reassured him, "the Jenner's the fastest Mech we have. I can't make it in time, and Sly and Glitch are behind me. You're our only hope, Medusa. You're the Restoration's only hope."

"To hell with all that," he countered, "I don't wanna die for a cause, Riana!"

"You're a Mechwarrior, Benitez," Hysteria hissed, "that's what you are. You're also a mercenary and under my command!" She paused to fire her Kali Yama at the enemy Jenner, boldly limping towards her despite heavy damage. The impact was enough to blow the CT apart and finally put an end to the stubborn unit. "I'll be your diversion, Medusa, now get your ass to that control tower before the Coronach dumps two more lances on top of us and you really do wind up dead!" 'Or before I kill you myself,' she thought to herself.

"Roger that," Medusa relented, kicking the Jenner into gear and racing from cover, "moving full throttle."

A Jenner D on the move
A Jenner D on the move

With no real choice left to me I routed Medusa's Jenner north, just as the enemy was funneling up the hill to engage the rest of us. He had all of 5 rounds to get there and destroy the tower. To provide a distraction I marched Hysteria's Jagermech forward, directly at 6 enemy Mechs. It was time to test Yang's armor. I destroyed the enemy Jenner with a blast from the AC/20 (which, honestly, can rock 110 immediate damage into anything it hits) but the Hunchback and the Dragon noticed Medusa's flight. The Dragon launching missiles and the Hunchback firing lasers they turned to attack him, but his speed lent him maximum evasion and moving through the forest gave him cover; not a single shot hit. Still though, that hunchback sported an AC/20 as well... if it got even a single hit against Medusa's exposed left side he was done for.

What happened after that was a stroke of great fortune. Their attention on Medusa, I was able to march Hysteria right up to them, Sly down the mountain within AC/5 range, and Glitch remained on her perch, taking single Breach shots with her PPC. Add to that the turrets still under Decimis control and suddenly I had a real chance to pull this off. Right away the Trebuchet moved itself in front of the Dragon, preventing Hysteria from going both barrels on him, so she went AC/20 on the Treb instead, taking him out. Her secondary AC/5 shot took the arm off the Cent and Glitch put an end to the Panther's right arm, where its PPC was. I was very lucky when Sly manage to knock the Dragon prone, causing him to miss his turn and giving my Jenner a chance to advance unmolested. My luck continued the next round when the Panther was finished by turret fire and Hysteria caught the Dragon on the ground, putting an end to his CT with the AC/20. That left only the Cent (not a real concern) and the Hunchback, who was converging on the Jenner's anticipated route.

Medusa raced out into the open. He could get to the dropship control center the next round, just two rounds before the Coronach arrived, if he could survive the alpha strike from the Hunchback. Glitch and Sly got missile shots at him, but neither was enough to take him out. I held my breath as he fired up his AC/20 and two medium lasers. The AC shot missed, thanks to evasion, but the lasers hit. They tore through more armor and structure but, somehow, the Jenner pulled through and charged up the hill into the protected alcove around the control tower.

The Jenner slid to a halt just outside of the dropship control center, liquid slag dripping from its left side. Inside the control tower Medusa could see the astonished faces staring, mouths open, at the JR7-D bristling with four intact one-ton lasers just as the SRM launcher bay in its Center Torso snapped open. Medusa slid his thumb along a row of switches, the red 'Armed' lights illuminating his cockpit as he took hold of the control stick and wrapped his finger around the trigger. "Cav to Heavy," he began, going out over the main channel, "in position for Alpha Strike."

"Good job, Medusa," Hysteria's voice came back, full of satisfaction, "light 'em up!"

He squeezed the trigger and four emerald rays of death issued from the damaged Mech, punching into the control tower just before the modified SRM-6 poured missiles into the aperture they created. A series of light flashes and smoke and debris exploded out from the building just before the entire structure collapsed under its own weight.

Just then the lance's radios picked up a transmission; "Ground control, this is the Coronach, we've lost you!" the staticy transmission was interspersed with loud clangs and noises that could only be debris impacting the dropship, "Nav support is offline! Where are the damned tugs?" Desperation sounded in the voice on the radio as the clanging sounds grew louder, competing with alarm klaxons.

"Without ground support their dropships won't be able to make planetfall," Kamea's satisfied voice came over the lance channel, "they'll be torn to pieces if they try. Congratulations, Hysteria, Panzyr is as good as ours!"

Mopping up the remainder was no problem at all. The Hunchback fell to a combo of turret fire and Glitch's PPC while the one-armed Cent met the business end of the Kali Yama. Post-mission Kamea came aboard and congratulated us all again when we were suddenly informed that, during her study and repair of the Argo, Dr. Murad had discovered an encrypted data archive Being Star League-era encryption no one really knew how to open it, but fortunately Kamea had someone in mind; Lord Simon Karosas, House Arano's Chief Technologist whose family lives on occupied Smithon. It would appear the Restoration has its next target but, until then, time to look for new contracts.

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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 11

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"Goddammit!" Hysteria swore. The heat from the Cicada's large laser superheated the cockpit of her Blackjack as it tore into the Mech's CT, "AHHH!" she screamed as the detonation of the servos inside the center torso sent shockwaves through her cockpit. Blisters that had formed all along her legs from the laser's heat were now torn apart as shrapnel from the CT explosion erupted beneath her. She shrieked as her equilibrium swirled, the 45 ton, 40 foot tall Mech was no longer able to support itself with its CT destroyed and it careened over and impacted the dusty surface of Untran as the dust storm swirled around her. The impact shattered bones, one of her ribs punctured a lung and she gasped as her emergency O2 supply kicked on. The BJ-1's cockpit had an emergency pressure loss system that could inject ablator silicone resin foam into breaches smaller than half a meter and, fortunately, that was all that had formed beneath her in the cockpit. It would preserve what heat she had in the cabin for a few hours at least, protecting her from Untran's martian-like atmosphere.

Impossibly, she was still conscious. Her Com was full of static interspersed with calls of 'Commander' and requests for her status but with her punctured lung it was all she could do to keep breathing. She willed herself to control it; the pain, her inhalation rate... all was critical now. She was hurt, badly. In a situation like this she should be dead, she knew it, and the truth was she might still be. Lying prone with her Lance badly outnumbered she was still a target on the ground. The explosion that ripped apart her CT had knocked her GM 180 fusion engine offline so she had no power whatsoever beyond the emergency battery backup that now powered her life support and her Com.

She turned her head to the right, her right eye stinging as a rivulet of blood trailed down her forehead into it. Keeping it closed she could still see Dekker with her left as he stomped on a Striker medium fire support vehicle with the Shadowhawk. She grinned a lop-sided grin as Behemoth appeared at his side in the Centurion, firing her weapons in the direction of the Mech that had felled her. 'We're still in the fight,' she thought to herself even as she could make out Darius on the Com calling for a withdrawal. "No," she keyed up, her voice a haggard and hoarse whisper, full of fluid and pain, "we're too close. There's only two vehicles left... in convoy."

"Hysteria!" Behemoth's voice blared across her Com, "The Commander's alive! We've got to get her out of there!"

"Do the job," Dekker commanded even as he stomped on a Galleon light tank, "we mop these bastards up and then we get out of here!"

Hysteria let her eyes close. She could count on Dekker to keep a level head. Out of all of the company's Mechwarriors she knew Amir to be focused; not as emotional as Glitch nor as protective as Behemoth. Certainly more capable than Medusa. The Capellan was a former naval lieutenant and a veteran and he lived by a personal motto of 'any battle you can walk away from is a victory.' She could relax knowing that Dekker would do all he could to survive. If the Lance needed to withdraw she could count on his judgement over Behemoth's overprotective instincts. 'It's funny,' she thought to herself, 'the very qualities that caused us to butt heads early on are the same ones that will now keep me alive.' For a long while she just focused on trying to breathe. The pain in her lungs went electric every time she took a breath and drowned out the pain in her legs, her back, and her head. Sir Raju had taught her a kind of meditation to perform when in a downed Mech, a way to turn inward on yourself to keep panic and heart rate down, and she relied on that now. A lower heart rate meant slowed bleeding, slower breathing meant less O2 consumption. She was out of the battle but not the fight; times like this were the most dangerous for a Mechwarrior... a fight for life itself.

Her left eye opened again as a shadow fell across her cockpit, the right eye was now crusted and scabbed over. First she noticed the temperature drop as the enemy Shadowhawk that loomed over her blocked out the light and heat of Untran's star. For a moment she thought this was it; her last moment. She anticipated the enemy Mech would raise its leg and stomp out the head of her Blackjack, but then she noticed its back was to her. Her iris contracted as the Shadowhawk jolted from a melee blow, forcing it to the side and allowing the star's light to wash over her once more. Dekker, in their own Shadowhawk, had just connected with a powerful strike. Pieces of the Mech flew out in Untran's lower gravity an exaggerated distance. She coughed and tasted blood as she tried to smile. 'Just one more shot, Dekker,' she said to herself mentally, 'one more like that and he's done.' Then suddenly the enemy fired his jump jets, throwing Untran's fine, sandy soil all over her cockpit. The 55 ton Mech arced into the air above Amir's Shadowhawk.

Then it cut its thrust.

Hysteria's heart rate spiked as the Mech began to fall back towards the planet's surface. She screamed, as much as she could, as its feet tore through Dekker's shoulder, CT, and on to crush and mangle its legs. A series of explosions went off as Dekker's Shadowhawk collapsed backwards, sailing down to Untran's surface. She vomited blood into her mask from the effort of screaming and was forced to tear it off, trying to clear her airway with what little O2 remained in the cockpit. She became aware of the ice crystals forming on the ferro-glass of her cockpit as Untran's unforgiving cold sapped the remaining heat. Getting her mask back on as quickly as she could she switched her Com to the Shadowhawk. "Dekker!" she wheezed, "Amir, come in! Can you hear me?" All that came back above the static interference caused by the star's unfiltered radiation could best be described as a wheezing gasp for air combined with a guttural noise born of pure terror.

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Riana shot bolt upright in her bunk, her hand going to her chest. Her heart was pounding and her left lung, the one punctured on Untran, ached. She closed her eyes, trying to banish the memory of Dekker's death from her mind even as she suppressed tears. 'If I had only let them withdraw when Darius called for it,' she mentally flogged herself for the thousandth time. Her agony was interrupted by the cheerful two-tone alert of an incoming Com.

"Commander," Sumire's voice called her to open her eyes and look to the left, at the Argo's Com screen. The pilot's scarred but pretty face appeared on the bluish green, lined display, "We're entering orbit around Untran."

"Thank you," she closed her eyes again, her hand still rubbing her chest. 'We're back,' she thought, 'to the one place in the 'verse I never wanted to return to.'

"It's presently oh-six-thirty," Sumire continued, "Darius has set briefing for oh-eight-hundred with the intention of operation dust-off by eleven-hundred hours," she paused and cocked her head, concern entering her voice, "should I have him push it back?"

"No," she looked across the room out the window; Untran's rusty expanse filled a portion of it now as the Argo entered high orbit, "I'll be on time."

"You don't have to deploy on this one," the pilot offered, "everyone but Jester is clear. Mohammed can take your place."

"To hell with that," she snorted derisively as she whipped the covers off of her, "I owe this planet an ass-kicking and I plan to do it from inside the Jager."

"Roger that," came Sumire's reply. She knew better than to try to argue with the former pirate, "I'll alert madam Liao of our arrival and planned Op start."

"See you on deck," Riana said dismissively as she switched off the Com. She crossed the room, the cold metal stinging her bare feet, as she collected her dropsuit and headed for the shower. "This one's for you, Amir," she said with icy determination, "and this time everyone is walking away."

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For those of you that pay close attention (which is probably no one) I made a mistake in yesterday's journal when I said that Untran was where Behemoth died. It wasn't. That was Linhauiguan on a Capture the Base mission. I have since corrected that. Rather Untran is where everyone's favorite death occurred... it is where Queen Kamea's Revenge lost Dekker. I remarked on it back in Journal Entry 4; Dekker died when an enemy fired their Jump Jets and stomped him. I speculated at the time: "When we recovered his Mech every part except for the head had been completely destroyed: both legs, both arms, both shoulders, and the center torso. With the head intact that means that Dekker died from exposure to the cold, unbreathable atmosphere of Untran. So basically the worst way possible." In my head canon Riana and Dekker butted heads a lot in the beginning but, after a while, he really became one of the most reliable members of my Lance. His loss was the first I suffered and it impacted me more than I expected. But, still, no save scumming. I want this story to play out to its natural conclusion.

Back to the mission at hand. I had taken a job for House Liao to secure a base and forcibly conscript the 'pirate' scientists inside, escorting the convoy to the extraction and protecting it along the way. By this time I've done this 'type' of mission a dozen times at least for the Capellans, basically a standard escort. I was fielding some pretty heavy metal; the Jagermech, the Centurion, the Shadowhawk... I opted to try out the new Enforcer that Yang had slapped together and I put Medusa in that. The Op started on the rim of a sizable crater with the facility sitting on the crown of a hill. The enemy ran into the crater from both sides, begging to be targets. They fell easily enough, most to single shots from various sizes of Auto Cannons. By this point Hysteria had earned enough points to unlock the Breaching Shot ability as well, which made her AC/20, AC/5 combos all the more deadly, especially when paired with the multi-target ability as each individual shot counted for a single weapon activation, allowing both shots to ignore Cover and Guarded statuses.

A dramatic action shot of an ENF-4R Enforcer Medium-Class Mech.
A dramatic action shot of an ENF-4R Enforcer Medium-Class Mech.

After wiping out the initial Lance I moved Big Sly in the Shadowhawk up to the top of the hill to trigger the escort. From his perch on high he could cover the entire valley and the extraction point. Reflecting it would have been the perfect place for Glitch and her Vindy but I had elected to let her sit this one out. Medusa in the Enforcer led the convoy down the eastern slope while Vamp in the Centurion walked the western slope just in case they came in from that direction. Hysteria's Jagermech I left in the crater under the cover of a dust storm. From there the range of her AC/5 could hit just about anything and whatever wandered closer would be fodder for the Kali Yama. When the enemy appeared they came from the south, moving down the hill rapidly. It was a full lance of 2 Commandos, a Locust, and one Panther, a popular configuration among pirates in this area of space. The first objective was clear the moment the Panther fired his PPC and missed one of the convoy's vehicles. That was handled by Sly with a called shot to the Panther's right arm. The combo of the AC/10 and the LRMs was enough to blow the arm and its cannon right off. The next threat was the Locust, breaking right around an outcrop of rock and getting close to range of the convoy. A single shot from Hysteria's AC/20++ was enough to both announce her presence and take out the Light Mech. Her second shot tagged one of the Commandos, taking out a left arm in the process, and somehow caused her to draw all of the fire for the rest of the mission.

While the rest of the Lance worked at scrapping the remaining two Commandos and the Panther the OpFor focused all fire on Hysteria... and wouldn't you know it, hit her in the head. They failed to cut through the copious amounts of armor Yang installed, although they did manage to remove most of it, but the big consolation prize for these losers was they knocked Hysteria out of action, again, for 17 days.

"You alright boss," Yang asked, ducking into the Medbay as a duo of nurses fussed over Riana.

"I'm fine, Chief," Riana replied as she slapped at the nurses, "just a concussion and a few stitches."

"We're more concerned about the damage you may have done internally!" one nurse countered, "You've only just healed!"

"Yeah, Chief," Riana teased, "I thought you wanted to keep me out of here!"

"I'm gonna blame pilot error," Yang quipped as Riana gasped in mock-offense, "the armor did its job. It was just a lucky shot those bastards got. The point is ..."

"Everyone came home," Riana finished his sentence, "we returned to Untran and everyone came home."

"Right, Yang concluded, "hey, uh, I'm gonna go oversee the team repairing your armor. Darius says there's another fat contract waiting on this hellhole and I figured..."

"Commander Klaue isn't going anywhere," the head nurse turned and glared at both Yang and Riana in turn, "not for at least two and a half weeks! Those are doctor's orders!"

Riana ignored them. "Tell Darius I'll be up there as soon as the hens have settled," she met the head nurse's indignant gaze with a smirk, "I suppose Sly can deploy in my Jager if it comes to that but, so long as we're here, there's no reason to turn down a good opportunity."

"Aye, aye, Cap'n," Yang nodded before turning, "See you topside."

For a moment Riana said nothing, just lying back and letting the nurse finish her stitches, but then she muttered; "Thank you, Amir,"

"Hmm? the nurse turned her attention from the stitches, "did you say something Commander?"

"Everyone came home," she replied softly, just staring out into space, "I'd call that a win."

"Any one you can walk away from, sir." the nurse replied, going back to her work.

Riana's eyes widened as they locked onto the nurse, "Indeed," she smiled, a feeling of warmth moving through her, "Any one you can walk away from," she said, 'and I'm still standing.'

Seemed appropriate on the 2nd anniversary of Harambe's death
Seemed appropriate on the 2nd anniversary of Harambe's death

Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 10

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The job at Mandalas was a simple escort mission with a rating of 1.5 and here I was fielding 2.5 worth of Mechs, but I had a problem: the Assassinate the Spy mission left me short one pilot. Sure, I could drop my Field Rating down to about equal and just field 3 Mechs but I've learned that these Difficulty Ratings are... fluid. I headed over to the Hiring Hall and checked out who I had available.

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Chris "Deadeye" Winzar is another Backer. No frills here, other than an initial 4 rating in Gunnery. The price was reasonable; I could hire him for just 29k. If I liked his performance I could keep him on, at just 30k a month he was very reasonable... but that's mostly because he was a total blank slate. Still though, a possible decent sniper in the future. I fielded Glitch, Jester, and Vamp in the Vindicator, Jenner, and Centurion respectively and I let Deadeye take the Shadowhawk. It is a good all around Mech with a nice mix of armor, long, and short range weaponry. The mission went off well, with the initial takedown of OpFor (Opposing Forces) handled very well, despite a very stubborn Panther that just refused to die. Deadeye took the brunt of the enemy's attacks so when they started the actual escort he was missing a good-sized chunk of it. Still I had good positioning. No enemy contacts on the way to the rendezvous site, and then:

Darius' voice was full of static as it came over the radio. "Enemy contacts bearing South/Southeast. Multiple bogies inbound."

"Is no big deal," Vamp responded coolly, "ve anticipated zis." He flipped the manual activation switch on his LRM bank and cycled power to the ammo feed.

"All Lance, report positions." Hysteria's voice flooded the cockpit. Vamp could tell she was still hurting. The Commander was stubbornly insistent about being 'clear' and in command, despite her injuries. That meant no meds.

"CC, standing by, South/Southeast of RV." he replied.

"Cav, standing by," Jester spoke next, "Direct South of the RV with Height advantage. Searching for Sensor Lock."

"Foxtrot Sierra, standing by," next came Glitch's overly chipper voice, "West/Southwest in cover. Waiting on Jester's lock."

"Deadeye, standing by," the Rookie clearly didn't remember his designation, "I'm, uh, at the top of the hill."

"Skirmish," Hysteria provided, "I want you in cover. You're missing too much armor."

"I'm next to a big rock," the Rookie offered, "I'll move behind it once we have the enemy in sight."

Vamp shook his head. "Vas I zis bad?" he asked after switching his Com over to Actual.

"Just about," came Hysteria's reply, "but we needed you so I put up with it."

"Sensor Lock," Jester's voice came over Main, "I'm counting five incoming at a sprint."

"So desperate to stop zis shipment," Vamp mused as he looked to his left at the HFORS display, "A Firestarter? In zis heat? Commander zis should be priority target."

"Agreed," Hysteria confirmed, "All Lance Weapons Free..."

"Hang on Commander," Glitch's voice was punctuated by the thunderclap of her PPC. As Vamp looked at the readout on his HFORS it scrambled and disappeared. "Free headshots!" Glitch said triumphantly, "Come and get 'em while they're hot!"

Okay, so it's not really Glitch, but it's still a pretty nice sketch.
Okay, so it's not really Glitch, but it's still a pretty nice sketch.

"Good shot, Glitch!" Hysteria praised, "All Lance hold position and let them come to you."

"I got a Commando coming in my sights!" Deadeye exclaimed. Vamp physically turned his head as the Shadowhawk thundered up next to him, "Taking an Alpha Strike!" The report of the Mech's AC/5 vibrated Vamp's entire cockpit just before the noise of his full LRM battery firing set his ears to ringing. Vamp turned back to see the enemy Commando's right arm separate at the shoulder.

"Confirmed dismemberment," Vamp reported, "good shot, Rookie, but vatch your spacing!" He moved his Centurion forward as the remaining three OpFor came into view, "Commander I'm looking at Locust, Enforcer, and Trebuchet."

"Glitch, take out the Locust," Hysteria commanded, "Jester, the Commando is yours," her tone shifted to one of anger, "Deadeye get my goddamn Shadowhawk behind cover!"

"Roger, boss,"Deadeye responded as Vamp readied his own Alpha Strike.

"Targeting ze Enforcer, Commander," he said as he squeezed the trigger at the same time he fired his LRMs, "all weapons, fire."

"Watch your heat, Vamp," she cautioned him, "Advance into the water. I'd rather have them pounding on your armor than..."

"I got incoming, Commander!" Deadeye suddenly yelled, "Full compliment! I'm taking damage!" Sure enough the scans showed that the Trebuchet had launched all of its missiles at the Shadowhawk. More to the point the Commando had beached and was now firing all of its remaining lasers at the Rookie as well as the Locust, firing from the safety of the water just before Glitch's PPC hit its CT and detonated its SRM ammo.

"Locust down, Commander," Glitch reported.

"Good work," Hysteria replied, "Deadeye... status!"

"That last shot went internal, Commander," the Rookie said dejectedly, "I've taken structural damage."

Just then Jester cut the tension, "The Leopard is away, Commander, escort complete. Repositioning for attack," a few moments later he spoke again, "Commando down. Two bogies remaining."

"Committing to an Alpha Strike on Enforcer," Deadeye's voice shocked the rest of the Lance, "Bingo! Enforcer has lost its footing, the Mech is prone, repeat the Mech is prone."

Hysteria's voice dripped venom. "Glitch target the Enforcer's CT, Vamp engage the Trebuchet, and Deadeye?" the air was pregnant with anticipation, "Deadeye get my fucking Mech on the OTHER SIDE OF THE GODDAMN HILL!!!"

"Taking fire!!! Taking fire from the Tre..." the Rookie started but Hysteria cut him off.

"Fire your Jump Jets and get behind the hill!!!" Back onboard the Argo Riana's knuckles went white as she gripped the microphone and saliva frothed as she spoke. "Deadeye, I swear to Christ if you lose a piece of my Shadowhawk I will personally put you out of my misery!"

"Riana, calm down," Darius counseled, his gaze moving up from the holographic display, "you're going to end up rupturing something again."

"ACKNOWLEDGE!!" she screamed.

"Firing Jump Jets," the Rookie's voice sounded deflated, "I'm behind the hill Commander, like you wanted. I've taken heavy structural damage but all systems are intact."

Just then Vamp's voice interrupted, "Commander ze last enemy unit is down. Only light damage to Lance. Mission complete."

"Stay put," Sumire's voice came across the radio next, "I'm inbound to your location for EV."

Hysteria switched her Com to the Leopard, "Sumire, this is Actual."

"Go ahead Actual," the pilot's voice came back.

"Get all assets loaded and then leave Deadeye on the surface."

"Actual, repeat?" Sumire sounded confused, "Am I reading you right that you want to leave one of our Mechwarriors behind?"

"He's not one of ours," Hysteria replied coldly, "he's paid up, he's a temp, and this planet has a Hiring Hall. Understood?"

"了解," she replied, "you're the boss."

So, yeah, Deadeye was a short-timer. In truth though the damage to the Shadowhawk wasn't that bad. By the time we got to our next mission, an Assassination at Linhauiguan, everyone (except Riana) was healed and all the Mechs were in good repair and ready to go. So it should have been a pretty easy mission... It wasn't. Remember how a lot of my early troubles came from things going sideways and me being too stubborn to Withdraw? So that was happening again. I set down with Vamp in the Cent, Jester in the Jenner, Glitch with the Vindy (Vindicator in Glitch parlance,) and Medusa driving his old Spider. I had only recently brought this one out of storage. I traded its twin mediums for one large laser and planned to use it to establish sensor locks and generally harass at a distance. When his right arm was immediately blown off I realized I had made a tactical error. The enemy was numerous, something like two full Lances (that would be 8 Mechs) and several support vehicles, and they were closing in all around us. We had lost all advantage. The Jenner took structural damage next so now I had 2 light Mechs just trying to keep away, which left me with a Sniper and a heavily-armored Centurion vs at least 10-12 enemies. Them's not good odds. It didn't take long before OpFor began to focus on Glitch, even though I was running Vamp into the fray trying to draw attention.

A Centurion under heavy fire
A Centurion under heavy fire

In Battletech there are two kinds of Withdrawals. One is the good kind; you complete one or more tasks and you are free to bug out. You won't get your full pay but hey, you can save a ton on Mech repairs and, um, lives. The other kind are Bad Faith Withdrawals. This is what happens when you do not manage to complete any objectives, such as was my status when Glitch got knocked prone and injured. In a Bad Faith Withdrawal you not only get zero pay but your reputation with the Mercenaries' Guild and whoever you're working for takes a hit. The moment Medusa's Spider lost an arm I made two decisions: first was to scrap that crappy Spider but just after that was to Withdraw. But I wanted to at least withdraw in good faith. But when Glitch went down all of that went out the window. Glitch is my best Gunner. With an 8 in Gunnery and the special ability Breaching Shot (Attacks with a single weapon ignore COVER and GUARDED on the target) she was simply too valuable to lose. Not to mention with only Vamp in a Mech that was in any condition to fight I threw up my hands and pulled my team out. It was the right call, Rep or no Rep.

I moved the team to Tincalunas, drawn by the promise of a Milk Run, and what I actually got was a series of 4 good-paying Milk Runs. It gave my team time to heal up and get repaired and I also got to field Hysteria in her new Jagermech finally! The mission was a simple stand up fight, Lance vs. Lance, but the difference was the enemy was 3 Commando Light Mechs and one Light Class Panther sniper and I took a Centurion, a Jenner, a Shadowhawk, and the Jagermech. With Sly on one hill in the S-Hawk and Hysteria on another in the Heavy I moved Vamp's Cent forward to draw fire and left Jester's Jenner in the woods to establish Sensor Locks. Sly took out the CT and head of one Commando in a single shot, so yes.. milk run... big time. But the real test here was 'how is Hysteria going to perform in the Jagermech?' I got my answer promptly when I used her multi-target ability to lock on to both remaining Commandos at the same time. One took a shot from her AC/5 and the other from her beloved AC/20++ Kali Yama. BOOM. Both Mechs destroyed... in a single shot.

So yeah, she likes it.

Presently I'm in orbit around Untran. Untran is the Bad Place. Dekker died here. I've been subconsciously avoiding missions here ever since but I'm on the way to liberate Panzyr for the Restoration and I couldn't resist a little side-piece for a solid 800k C-Bills. The mission is a Difficulty 2 and I can field 2 1/2 easy. With any luck the Jagermech will make a big difference to my luck on this unlucky world.

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Journal of a Mechwarrior Part 9

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Riana lay in the bed in the Medbay of the Argo. The room was cavernous compared to the Leopard and it made her feel alone in the small hours of the 'night' but she couldn't sleep anymore so she was pleasantly surprised when Yang Virtanen knocked softly and entered the room. "Nice digs," he said with a smirk as he came fully into view, "mind if I come in?"

"Glad for it, actually," Riana smiled, "just coming out of another drug-induced stupor to a shocking amount of pain. I could use the distraction."

"You okay, boss?" Yang asked with genuine concern.

"I'm fine," she lied, "how's my Blackjack?"

"Doing about as well as you, from the looks of it," the native Capellan approached her bedside and placed his hand on the rail, "she's a near total loss, Commander; both legs, the CT, practically all of the torso... left arm too."

"What about the AC/20?" Riana asked. She had only recently paid over 300 thousand C-Bills for the Kali Yama and the thought of losing it pained her.

"It survived," Yang smiled, "right arm intact."

"Oh, good," Riana breathed a sigh of relief, "How long will it take to fix her up again?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Yang began with a sigh. He knew she wouldn't like this, "I think we should scrap her."

"Yang, could you maybe share the drugs a little?" Her expression blended between sarcasm and annoyance, "I'm in pain here and it's making me hear things."

"I'm serious, Riana," the MechTech was insistent, "the damn thing is gonna get you killed. This is the third time you've totaled that Mech and ended up in Medbay for an extended stay."

"I wouldn't be much of a leader if I wasn't out in front," she half-growled.

"Yeah, I'm getting that from you," Yang countered, "so that's why I'm telling you to let the Blackjack go."

"And I'm telling you go jump out an airlock," she snarled, "Fix my Blackjack, Chief. That's the end of this conversation."

"No it isn't, Riana," Yang said with his characteristic steely determination, "I want you to listen to me. How bad is it this time? Broken femur? Shattered hip? I heard you ruptured a kidney."

"Spleen," she corrected him.

"Took a lot of shrapnel too," Yang continued, "and the skin grafts from the burns this time took eight hours, even with theArgo's fancy new equipment."

"Fix my Mech, Chief," Riana narrowed her eyes, "that's your job."

"You know what else is my job?" his tone was full of indignant dismissal, "Keeping my Mechwarriors alive. I can't do that if you insist on charging headlong into battle with a severe armor deficiency and a gun that's too big for your Mech!"

"If I have to get up out of this bed..." she let the threat hang but her knuckles went white on the rails of the bed.

"I have an alternative," Yang released the rail and took a step back, "and I want you to actually listen to me. Alright?"

Riana let herself relax, her head sinking into the pillow. "Better make it good, Yang."

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The MechTech looked around and found a wheeled stool, sliding it over and taking a seat next to her bed. "Lady Arano was generous with the Weldry salvage," he began, "I got the complete chassis of that JM6-S Jagermech. It's not all that dissimilar to your Blackjack. Think of it like a distant, heavier cousin."

"A Jagermech?" Riana raised one eyebrow, "That's your solution? It's a long range sniper. Sports twin AC/2s and twin AC/5s, right? With Medium lasers for close targets?" She blew out a raspberry as she cut her eyes away, "Your solution is to put me at distance, eh? In a Heavy-Class at that."

"I thought you'd say that," Yang interrupted her, "so I've come up with a solution I think you may like.." She didn't speak but turned her attention back to him so he continued, "What if I strip all of that off and slap the Kali Yama to the right arm? I can leave the AC/5 on the left but everything else goes. No AC/2s, no lasers. Not much need for Heat Sinks. The only other piece of equipment is a heavy Jump Jet for mobility."

"Jagermechs are lightly armored for their tonnage," Hysteria shook her head, "and bigger Mechs are more expensive to fix. Just patch up my Blackjack..."

"Not this Jagermech," he shook his head, cutting her off, "I plan to load three or four separate AC/20 ammo feeds to various locations and everything else? Armor. Tons of armor. I'm gonna put as much armor on this Mech as it can hold," he reached out with his meat hand and gripped hers, "whatever it takes to keep you out of here."

"I'd rather be in here than at another funeral, Yang," she said softly, the memory of Dekker and Behemoth tearing at her, "and I'm not going to stop until those Espinosa bastards pay for what they did to Sir Raju!" He squeezed her hand as she tightened her own grip, fighting back fresh tears.

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"I know you won't," Yang said with a sigh, "that's why I want you in this Mech. You're gonna be a walking tank, Riana, literally. That AC/20 was way too big for the Blackjack, but the Jagermech can handle it, easy. With the expanded ammo and the AC/5 in reserve you shouldn't have to worry about running out. If it becomes an issue I can always find some place for a laser mount."

"What about close quarters?" she turned to ask, "What am I supposed to use, harsh language?"

"Ha!" the Tech laughed," Half of your damage comes from melee anyway! You like to get up close and kick the hell out of your enemies, I know you!" He released her hand and leaned back in the chair, smirking at her, "Do you know how many times I've had to fix cracks in the cockpit from where you headbutt people? At least with this Mech you've got some serious tonnage behind your strikes, not to mention armor."

"Alright, fine," she relented, "but fix my Blackjack." He started to protest but she kept going: "We can put it in storage but I can't bear to scrap her. She's my family's ancestral Mech..." then she muttered "and I stole her fair and square."

"Is that your attachment to this ancient piece of junk?" Yang snorted in derision, "I didn't realize my lady had such a sentimental attachment..."

"Stow it, Chief," she cut her eyes at him, "and spare me your Capellan attitude; I'm as noble as you are now and you know it!"

"Didn't stop you from stooping and bowing before the High Lady, now did it?" Yang regretted it the moment it slipped his lips but the old vet was too stubborn to change course.

"Oh, I'm sorry," her voice practically dripped with sarcasm, "I forgot that Comrade Virtanen trusts no noble, even one who was so generous with the Weldry salvage!" She pulled herself up in the bed, her face flush and her hackles raised, "Lady Arano is no mere noble to me, Yang, and if you can't remember that you're welcome to make Mandalas your port-of-call when we arrive!"

"And what exactly is she to you, Commander?" Yang folded his arms, metal over flesh, "Not that I care how you look at her but you've gone out of your way to lay down for her like a good dog! When you were elected captain of the Marauders you didn't hear a peep when you decided to change the company name to Mjolnir, it was a good strong name, but I've gotta say Queen Kamea's Revenge? Really? We are mercenaries, Riana, and you've turned us soldiers!"

"Is the money not good enough, Yang?" she shot back, "We took one and a half million from the Axylus mission and, correct me if I'm wrong, at least that much again after Weldry!" She pointed at him accusingly, "when I took the helm, no, when you guysforced me to take command, we were up to our eyeballs in debt! For three long years we lived hand-to-mouth, one step ahead of our creditors! Do you think I knew anything about how to run a company? Me? A pirate? Do you know how many insufferable lectures I had to sit through with Darius, how many time Sumire complained about the banks and the payments on the Leopard? One point five million Yang!! Twice! Yeah, I renamed the company to Queen Kamea's Revenge! She's our goddamn sponsor!! And not to mention it's my revenge as well! That bitch murdered Sir Raju! The man was like a father to me! More than my actual father ever was!" Tears streamed down her face at this point but the angry flush in her cheeks threatened to turn them to steam. "He pulled me out of the wreck of my Blackjack on Bringdam, Yang, my enemy! I thought for sure I would be gibbeted in Coromodir, hung for my crimes, but what did he do? He believed in me! He remembered me! He spoke for me and after I did my time he convinced Lady Arano that I was worthy enough to be in her guard! Is that how I look at her, Yang? Maybe like I owe her something??" She twisted around and swung her legs off the bed, one still in a full cast. "I'm sitting here, in this goddamn bed, and his loss is as fresh to her as it is to me. We lost him twice!! She walked in to find him like that, she did! While I was being medevaced off of Weldry with the goddamn Mech you won't fix she had that scar we share torn open fresh! And I wasn't there for her!!" She buckled as she tried to stand, falling back to the bed as he moved to help her. She pushed him away violently, "Get the **** off me!" Her eyes hardened to the point that Yang felt like she hated him. "You don't know a fucking thing about me but you're going to sit here and preach to me while I'm laid up in here like this?"

"I'm sorry, all right?" Yang put his hands up and backed away, "I'll fix it, and you're right. I don't know much about you and I let my mouth run about shit I know nothing about," her chest heaved as she glared at him but he continued, "I told you about my time with the 1st Battalion, I told you about what happened on St. Loris. The highborn always play at war but it's the common man who pays the toll," he held up his cybernetic arm in illustration, "so maybe I am suspicious at the notion of joining the Restoration to put Kamea Arano back on her rightful throne. I've been used and thrown away before, Riana. I know you have this connection to her through Sir Raju and all but I don't have that." He spread his arms out; "this right here is all I have. A ship and a crew and Mechs to work on."

"Who gave us the Argo, Yang?" Riana growled. Her anger was ebbing but was still present.

"She did," he answered, then he corrected: "Lady Arano did... High Lady. I get it. She's our benefactor, and you're right: the pay is good. It's really, really good. I worry too much."

"You do,"

"I do," he sighed as he eased back down on the stool, confident at last that she wouldn't try to stand again, "look, I'm sorry I pissed you off. No hard feelings, okay? I want you to recover and this isn't helping."

"Relax, Yang," she took a deep breath, "I'm a pirate; I love to fight. Beats the hell out of just staring at the walls and focusing on how much I hurt!" She extended her fist which Yang met with his own.

"Why don't you tell me about that?" he asked, "It would pass the time."

"What are you now, my therapist?" she scoffed, "Mind your business. Fix my Mech!"

"I'm your friend," he countered, "and I'm sitting right here. It's my break so talk to me."

"Pssht," she looked away out the window, "it's a past life. What's to tell?"

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"Well you could start by explaining how a highborn noble became a pirate," the MechTech suggested, "That'd be interesting."

"How long until we reach the Jumpship?" she asked absently, still looking out the window.

"Five days, Commander," Yang took off his glasses and produced a cloth from his coveralls, "fine. If you don't want to tell me I guess I'll head back to the bay and get started on..."

"House Klaue is originally from the Rimward Periphery," she began, still looking away, "a little shithole called McEvan's Sacrifice but we moved to Artru when I was a baby." Yang quickly cleaned his glasses and leaned back but he dared not interrupt her. "From what I heard my father won our estate in a game of cards. It was a step up; a chance for us to approach respectability," she cut a glance over at Yang and half-chuckled, "we were little more than bandit lords! I mean we had a noble name but before Artru that was about it. On Artru we had lands, we had servants... nothing at all like Coromodir, of course, but it was... palatial, and as I grew up the profits from the plantation started to earn my father the grudging respect of the other nobles, and it enabled him to hire Sir Raju." She wiped at her tear-stained eyes as she spoke of Mastiff. "He taught me how to be a Mech pilot. We only had my father's Blackjack but with Sir Raju's guidance it wasn't long before it felt like it was mine." She looked over at Yang, "I cried for days when he left. We'd had a bad harvest and my father needed to make cuts to payroll. He tried to soften the blow by saying I'd learned all I needed and I could defend out lands now but the truth is my father was... distant." She rolled her eyes and looked away again, "it's a common theme amongst nobility; parents don't raise their kids, the nannies and the finishing schools do. So that's what he did, he enrolled me in St. Regis' School of Excellence. It was the proper thing to do. In one week I lost Sir Raju and my home. St. Regis was like a prison to me, and I suppose that's where things went awry."

"Awry?" Yang asked.

"My father expected me to return home a proper lady, another step towards the validity he craved, but I... well I was a bit of a disappointment."

"How so?"

"I had... experiences at St. Regis," she turned and looked him in the eye, challenging him silently to judge her, "I was a woman now with all the power and vulnerabilities that entailed. It was a messy affair but let's just say I awakened, sexually. Much to the dismay of my father."

"I suspect that is hard for any father to come to grips with," Yang offered.

"I was a whore, Yang," she said matter-of-factly, "no need to sugarcoat it. I knew what I was doing. I enjoyed it. Men, women, nobles, commoners," she laughed, "groups of both. It was only a matter of time before he couldn't bear the shame of it anymore. I was exiled; good of the family he said. My mother let it happen too. He wouldn't let me 'drag the Klaue name through mud any longer,' end quote." Her exaggerated imitation of her father's voice was meant to be amusing but Yang was speechless. "I had nothing. He wouldn't give me anything. Told me to find a brothel. At the time I was so bitter about it but now? Heh, what elsecould he say? Anyway, all I really had was Sir Raju's training so I found a dropship pilot, slept with him, and had him help me steal my father's Mech and get it off world. I figured he left me with only two ways to make a living; on my back or in a cockpit and I could make more money in a Mech than in a brothel."

"Can't blame you," Yang offered but Riana noticed his slight blush. It amused her.

"I went back to McEvan's Sacrifice and fell in with a pirate crew. 'Revan's Raiders.' And man, did we raid. I did all kinds of horrible things, Yang, and I dodged death more times that I could count. Not that it mattered to me; I was drunk or high for most of it. Thing about piracy though is it's mostly about being in the right place at the right time and projecting the right amount of force. You commit a few atrocities and soon your reputation precedes you; merchants and depots will just roll over for you like a good dog. You always pick one or two of them and rough them up, maybe kill one as needed, just to cement your rep. Otherwise your next job is harder."

"Riana," Yang spoke softly and looked at the floor, "most of our work is taking out pirate crews..."

"Oh, I know," she said dismissively, "they're asking for it. I was asking for it. I think some part of me wanted to die. I was worthless, you know? exiled, lost my family, my home... I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. I though I would on Bringdam. Aurigan forces were waiting for us. Old Revan made a classic mistake; he hit the system once too often, got greedy. So there was Sir Raju, waiting for us. I didn't know it was him at the time, of course, but he recognized the Blackjack. He was careful to take out the legs." She looked down for a moment, wistfully, "Revan and his crew were all wiped out, like playthings tossed away, and all I could do was rage from inside my cockpit, my Blackjack prone on the ground. I waited for him to do it, I waited for him to stomp my core out, but when the ground units arrived and they cut me out of my Mech I figured that was the end for me. I wouldn't get my blaze of glory, instead I'd get hung and my body would be strung up for others to see; 'Pirates ye be warned' and all that. Instead Sir Raju was there when they got it open." She laughed. "Oh, the face I must have made! All that fight, it all drained out of me the moment I saw him! They yanked me out and cuffed me and I was just too dumbfounded to speak!" She stared off in space for a minute and then continued: "I spent thirteen months in an Aurigan prison on Coromodir and he came to see me every week. Kept telling me he knew I was better than that." She looked Yang in the eye, her own eyes misting over again, "He never stopped believing in me. Not once! Even when the magistrate wanted to execute me for my crimes he fought for me. Stood up to High Lord Tamati and flat out told him that if he executed me the he would leave the Aurigan Reach forever. He insisted that Lady Kamea meet me, treated us like his own daughters, and when he felt like I was remorseful enough he got them to commute my sentence and release me. Told them that if they put me in her Royal Guard he would keep an eye on me. Sir Raju gave me a chance, you see? He took me from worthless and he made me worthy. And Kamea made it all possible by accepting me as her guard."

Yang sat in silence as she spoke, mostly looking at the floor. "That's an incredible story. I mean, I knew you were a noble-turned-pirate-turned-Mechwarrior but I had no idea."

"Why would you?" she shook her head, "When I joined you guys I was pretty well lost. I acted like a pirate. I don't understand why in the 'verse you'd pick me as a leader, I just wanted to pilot a Mech and try to die again. Sir Raju was dead, Kamea was dead, my legitimacy was dead..." she dropped her head and looked at her hands, "Shit, Yang, I finally understand why my father was so consumed with the other nobles' recognition; I wanted it too. I wanted somebody to see me as something besides a whore or a pirate. I liked being in the Royal Guard. I loved Kamea,"

"You still love Kamea," Yang quipped.

"Shh!" she cut her eyes at him, "Anyway it's taken me some time to fall into this role as a mercenary captain. I didn't know what I was doing at first."

"You got that right,"

"Alright smartass,"

"Joke!" he held his hands up, "I'm joking! Please continue."

"As I was saying I was pretty lost at first," she looked away again, "I didn't know what I was doing and it cost Miranda and Amir their lives."

"You can't bear that cross alone," Yang reached out to her again, "both of those missions you were out of action. Dekker and Behemoth were experienced pilots and sometimes even the best of us..." he choked up and looked down as he spoke about his friends, "it just happens. It happens to the best of us. It's nobody's fault. We all know the risks."

Riana took a deep breath and wiped her eyes as a nurse entered the room. "Commander!" she exclaimed, "You should be resting!"

"I couldn't sleep," Hysteria offered, "Yang was keeping me company."

"You're due for more pain meds," the nurse said, moving to the other side of the bed, "they're going to knock you out and you need to sleep! I'm going to have to ask you to leave, Chief."

"That's okay," he said, getting up awkwardly, dabbing at his eyes as he did, "I've got a ton of work to do repairing a Mech thatought to be scrapped..."

"Stow it!" Riana warned.

"... and I have to mount a fourteen ton gun to the arm of an over-armored Jagermech so our intrepid leader here can stop getting blowed up so much."

"Chief," Riana reached out for Yang's hand again, "thank you."

The Mechtech's composure shook and his lip quivered as he gripped her hand and squeezed, hard. "You got it boss. You get your ass well. I'll get that Blackjack fixed up and in storage." He offered her a smile and turned to leave as the nurse inserted the needle into her drip.

"I'll be here," she called to him just as the woozy rush of the pain meds took effect, "come back anytime."

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